Does the image of an alley come to mind when you hear the word “park”? How about a drainage ditch?

If you answered “no” to either question you’re probably not involved in planning the newest addition to the Pleasant View Homes subdivision near Flynn Lane and West Broadway in Missoula.

The developers of the proposed subdivision, known by the evocative designation Pleasant View Homes No. 5, argue that 20-foot gaps separating the back yards of the houses constitute greenways and characterize a drainage ditch as a public park required by city ordinance. A greenway, for those who don’t normally think about such things, resembles something like the Riverfront Trail, which rather obviously does not look or function much like an alley.

The Missoula City Council unanimously approved the subdivision in August, but rejected the preposterous idea that the alleys and drainage ditch serve as parklands. As penance for the inadequate open space, Council demanded money from the developers in lieu of the half-acre of parkland they were required to provide.

Not to be denied, Pleasant View Homes Inc. turned around and filed a lawsuit in September arguing that the city acted arbitrarily, capriciously and inconsistently with its own laws, and that the proposed parklands were adequate to meet subdivision regulations. The developers demand payment of $197,600, plus legal fees, and seek to overturn the Council’s decision.

It’s not like the city’s opinion came out of nowhere. Back in May, in a letter to the developers, Parks and Recreation Department Open Space Program Manager Jackie Corday outlined the city’s stance on the subdivision plan.

She said the greenway strips serve no purpose as parkland. She also noted that similar features did not count as open space when the previous Pleasant View expansion, No. 4, came up for review, and reasoned that the same would be true this time around as well.

Though Corday would not speak about the Pleasant View situation due to the ongoing litigation, she says parks are an essential part of Missoula.

“Having good functioning park space is critical to the quality of life we all enjoy. It’s where people socialize, and meet their neighbors… It’s part of why people live here,” she says.

City Attorney Jim Nugent has only just started preparing the city’s arguments and couldn’t offer many comments on the issue.

But we can.

We’d hate to live in a place where alleys and drainage ditches pass as suitable places for public recreation and enjoyment.
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