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Feb 4, 2013 7:49 AM by Dennis Bragg - MTN News

Fight over Missoula housing policy moves into a new round

MISSOULA- The fight over "accessory dwelling units", commonly known as "granny cottages", enters a new phase this week in Missoula. Opponents hope to use state law to stay the city council's hand as the proposed rules are refined.

ADU proponents say this property in the heart of Missoula is a picture perfect example of what they have in mind. The owners gave the old, dirt-floored garage that went with this lovingly restored 1890s home to the neighbors and erected a new garage, topped with a studio apartment.

The project isn't even done and already people are asking about renting it. This location is already allowed under Missoula's zoning rules, and some city council members see it extending to other neighborhoods, meeting goals to "infill" the city.

"To develop a growth policy that focuses inward. That no longer are we going to emphasize sprawl. Because, one, we want to have clean air, which we have a problem here in Missoula," Missoula City Councilman Alex Taft explained.

"We don't want to increase traffic if we don't have to. And we also have a long-range transportation plan which says, let's support that inward focusing development," he added.

But extending that concept to a broader area is seen as "zoning Armageddon" by some - a move destroying the nature of neighborhoods of single family homes...

"The process that's been followed by the city council in their outreach program has been flawed, because the feedback that they've gotten has not been listened to," said John Snively with Save Our Neighborhoods.

Opponents launched a petition drive and if enough people sign, the city council will need a two-thirds majority to approve ADUs. That's roughly 4,000 names.

But Taft says the council has responded to input, and continues to work on rules reflecting changes in the housing market, from costs to the high demands for apartments for students and the elderly.

"So we're trying to anticipate that. And really we're responding to the residents of this town who over the last 20 years have said that we need to develop our downtown, our beautiful waterfront. We want people to live close into town. We're going to make a major investment in transit," Taft told us.

Save Our Neighborhoods points to non-confirming rentals already scattered around the city as proof that Missoula can't enforce what it sees as a major zoning change...

"People invest huge amounts of money in their homes. For most people it's the largest single investment they have in life. And they want to have a predictable investment. And zoning assures some measure of predictability of how they put their money into their house. And so it is important. And quality of life issues as well," Snively stated.

Those petitions arrived in mailboxes over the weekend.

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