To split, or not to split 

One of the most glaring unintended consequences of elected officials’ failure to rewrite land-use regulations is the lack of affordable housing in Missoula proper, a consultant told the Board of County Commissioners, City Council and a crowd of roughly 50 citizens Tuesday, March 1.

“There’s a migration out of the city, particularly people who can’t afford to live in the city,” said Sally Mullen, an independent contractor hired to assess the Missoula Office of Planning and Grants and make recommendations about how to restructure the organization.

The Board of County Commissioners voted in September 2004 to void an agreement between the city and the county that created the Office of Planning and Grants, which generally enforces land-use regulations for the entire county. City Council members were considering doing the same before the county beat them to the punch.

After interviewing 113 locals, Mullen presented a few observations and a little advice to all parties.

“If there’s one thing you’re going to hear from me today, it’s that you have horrible, despicable—and that’s on a good day—regulations,” Mullen said to city officials.

Which brings Mullen to her recommendation: “You need new regulations. You need to have the political will to make them happen.”

OPG staff, Mullen said, generally “don’t get very much credit for what they do.

There’s a huge amount of work that goes out of that office unnoticed.” The No. 1 recommendation to OPG, Mullen said, is to develop a means of responding consistently—and perhaps more kindly—to queries from the public.

Mullen provided two recommendations as to how OPG might be structured in the future. Neither option would split the office into two separate city and county offices. Both, however, would do away with the board that currently governs OPG—poorly, by most accounts—and institute joint governance by the city and county administrative officers. Mullen remains on contract to help assist with any required transitions.

In the meantime, she offered some advice that might be generously passed among all involved parties: “The civility department…needs some help in Missoula at this time.”

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