Missoula City Council approves rezoning for construction of new library

A+E Architects is partnering with Minneapolis-based library specialists MSR to design the new Missoula Public Library.

Their fears about landscaping and the downtown streetscape allayed, members of the Missoula City Council unanimously approved a rezoning request Monday that sets the stage for construction of a new Missoula Public Library.

The new CBD (Central Business District) zoning covers Blocks 5 and 6 of the McWhirk Addition, where the library recently completed a land swap with Terry and Patricia Payne.

The Payne family now owns Block 5, where the existing Missoula Public Library sits, and the library owns Block 6, where its new $35 million home will be built.

During the next two-plus years of construction, the library will lease its building from the Paynes so it can stay open and downtown. Seven homes previously owned by the Paynes on Block 6 will be demolished to make room for the new library.

Councilwoman Heidi West lamented the destruction of the homes, suggesting they provide low-income housing and are of historic value.

“There is more to making downtown livable than economic development,” she said. “We should also be inclusive to all income levels.”

West ultimately voted for the rezoning.

Councilwoman Michelle Cares said her concerns centered around the unknown. “What are the Paynes’ intentions for Block 5?” she asked. “We haven’t heard anything about what will happen on that block once the library moves into its new building.”

There hasn’t been any decision about the future use of the existing library building, or that land, because it won’t be available until 2020, according to Brandon Prinzing of A&E Architects.

“Because the Paynes have agreed to lease Block 5 to the library for an estimated three years, planning for future development is unrealistic,” he said in the rezoning application. “However, the rezoning of Block 5 now would promote future development and growth that is compatible with the existing 2009 Missoula Greater Downtown Master Plan and the Our Missoula 2035 Growth Policy.”

The top story of the new library will feature a number of meeting and gathering spaces, of different sizes and for various purposes, from classrooms to boardrooms. (A&E Architects)

Several council members said they were concerned about how the new library will be landscaped to minimize its intrusion on nearby residences and to enhance the central business district’s streetscape.

The city wants to create an “inviting pedestrian experience” downtown, said Councilwoman Gwen Jones. “I hope you will continue cooperating with city staff to see their big picture for what we’re trying to create downtown.”

At Monday night’s meeting, Prinzing showed council members an architectural drawing of the new library’s landscaping that includes outdoor plazas, public areas, boulevard trees, bus stops, bicycle and vehicle parking, and a vegetative buffer with the closest residences.

The east and south sides of the library will be set back from the street to provide a green area between the building and nearby homes. The north and west sides will have smaller setups, but will still be landscaped and tree lined.

The site plan remains under development, he said, and will be discussed more during a September open house that all members of the public can attend. (Two other open houses were held this spring and summer.)

Councilman John DiBari said he is worried that the landscaping will fall to the wayside if funding runs short during construction. But Prinzing and library board chairwoman Rita Henkel assured the council that the landscaping money was solidly in the construction budget, and would remain so.

In his application, Prinzing emphasized that the new library will be a cultural hub for downtown Missoula and the community overall.

When it opens, in late 2019 or 2020, the new building will house not only the Missoula Public Library but also MCAT, spectrUM and Children’s Museum Missoula.

“This project has the opportunity to grow the core of downtown in a smart, compatible way that will serve generations to come,” Prinzing wrote. “The new library will be a very compatible neighbor and will add value to all of the neighbors by becoming a destination for Missoulians.”

Because the Missoula Public Library is an arm of government, owned by both the city and county of Missoula, it actually did not have to seek a rezoning.

City attorney Jim Nugent explained Monday that government entities are exempt from zoning regulations.

Rather, it made the request as part of its land swap with the Payne family.

In addition, Missoula County voters approved a $30 million bond issue for the library’s construction last November, Nugent said, and the bond language was specific about the location of the new building.