Missoula: state law – not emotions – guides downtown private development rights

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The proposed development at the corner of Higgins Avenue in downtown Missoula.

State law prohibits the city of Missoula from imposing conditions on a development and removing legal zoning simply because some residents are unhappy with the project, let alone the character of one of its investors, said. Monday city officials.

In recent days, some residents have taken to social media to condemn Aaron Wagner, an investor in a proposed multi-million dollar private project for Higgins Avenue in downtown Missoula, for the comments he made towards some residents who have openly criticized the redevelopment and resist the change. .

Wagner has since apologized.

The property in question, located on the site of the former Missoulian newspaper printing plant, is privately owned and has been listed for $ 8.5 million in a deal that was reportedly struck last week. So far, the developers have not requested any help from the city for the demolition or redevelopment.

“There has been a considerable farewell associated with someone who is one of the investors in the planned project for the former Missoula property,” Missoula Mayor John Engen said Monday. “I can tell you that neither I nor the (city) council can choose who does the development. It is a function of state law and private property rights.

The public vision of the Hip Strip as outlined in the Downtown Master Plan.

Lee Enterprises, who owned the property and the Missoulian newspaper, requested a zoning change in August before the sale. The old zoning was created in the 1980s to specifically house the newspaper and its printing press.

This old zoning did not match the current zoning that applies to the rest of the neighborhood, which is considered downtown – a fact that limited the uses of the property. The Missoula Consolidated Planning Board approved the zoning requested by Lee Enterprise in September, and the Missoula City Council did the same in October.

While some residents have lamented the proposed changes to the underused site, city council remains guided by Montana law. Under state law, the city cannot impose conditions on a rezoning, such as a required use or a warrant for affordable housing.

But state law is not good enough for some critics.

“It’s a lack of community control over real estate investments,” Nathan Stephens told city council on Monday. “Are we going to allow them (the developers) to build here?” This is wrong and you know it. Do something.”

Opponents have waged a small social media campaign in recent days to stop the development. Among them, the region’s newly elected city council member Daniel Carlino posted misleading information on social media suggesting the project could be stopped.

In a Facebook post, he suggested that “our community can stop this wave of gentrification.” Carlino, who is not sworn in but claims on Facebook to already represent Ward 3, included the mayor’s office number and the developer’s email contact in a bid to arouse opposition to the project before Monday evening.

An elected member of Missoula city council, who was not sworn in, is pushing to stop the proposed project on Higgins Avenue.

Engen said on Monday that state law – not emotions – guides the city’s decisions.

“The rezoning of this property has been done. The previous zoning only allowed one newspaper to operate on this site. When council approved the new zoning, it created opportunities for redevelopment, ”said Engen.

“The board’s decision was not based on who the developer might be,” he added. “This was largely unknown at the time, and frankly it shouldn’t have any effect on their decision. I can’t tell you if the deal goes through, if the gentlemen whose words have upset them, will complete a project. the low.

In other projects that seek public aid, such as the tax increase or cancellation of the public right-of-way, the city has worked with the developer to make inclusions that provide public benefits, such as affordable housing.

In a nearby condominium project that sought a small vacancy from the public right-of-way, the city demanded that 20% of the development be spent on affordable housing for those earning 120% of the region’s median income. The city has also worked with other developers who have purchased land owned by the city, giving city officials a tool to affect a certain outcome.

But in this case, at least, the Higgins Avenue project is privately funded, takes place on private property, and meets all city regulations.

“If there is public investment in any form, the city and I will do our best to find public benefit in it,” Engen said. “If it didn’t exist, we probably wouldn’t invest in it. But our ability to shape this project, to provide an affordable price and an effect design beyond what’s currently on the zoning books, is limited.

The property of Higgins Ave. in downtown Missoula is allowed to be redeveloped

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