Saving this old house

As city planners propose a new ordinance that would regulate changes within Missoula's historic districts, some wonder if the rules may unduly limit the look and feel of homes that aren't actually that old.

As it stands, the ordinance would apply to any Missoula property listed on the National Register of Historic Places and all parcels—including new construction—within a historic district. If implemented, the regulation would require a design review in addition to the standard building permit process.

Affected neighborhoods include the downtown area, East Pine Street District, Northside, Lower Rattlesnake, University Area, Historic Southside, McCormick Neighborhood and Fort Missoula—totaling about 8 percent of property citywide.

The regulation would not limit aesthetic choices like paint color, but it would require an architectural review to ensure the design fits a neighborhood's character.

Many residents voiced support for the protections during Monday's council meeting, but others said sweeping entire neighborhoods into the ordinance—including structures erected within the past 50 years—is overkill.

"Seven percent of all of the properties in Missoula seems like a pretty broad brush," said Ruth Link from the Missoula Organization of Realtors.

Link added that the projected wait time to receive a permit—up to 60 days—and additional fees could be cumbersome, too.

But proponents of the ordinance said Missoula's oldest buildings have virtually no protection to keep them intact. And planners believe the zoning process is the most effective way to preserve the area's cultural heritage.

For example, the Missoula Art Museum addition and the newly constructed "Corner" building at Brooks and Higgins are both considered historically compliant, said Philip Maechling, Missoula's historic preservation officer.

"Ordinances like this are intended for new construction to happen," Maechling said. "This is not about stopping development. This is about encouraging development that makes sense."

City Council sent the issue back to committee and Mayor John Engen said it will iron out details before moving forward.

"This won't be your only opportunity to comment," he said.

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