Missoula City Council delays Grove Street townhomes amid neighborhood outcry

Neighbors of the proposed Grove Street townhome development will have another chance to present their objections to the 31-unit project after the City Council sent it back to a committee on Monday. (Missoula Current)

Neighbors of a proposed 31-unit townhome development in Missoula’s once-rural Orchard Homes area won a reprieve Monday night from the Missoula City Council.

But the Grove Street townhouses will again be considered by a council committee and then the full council in early 2018, albeit facing questions from neighbors and council members alike.

And four new City Council members will be sworn into office by then, presenting another change in the political landscape.

More than two-dozen homeowners who live near the proposed development filled Council Chambers for Monday night’s public hearing on the Kolendich family’s Grove Street townhomes and open space.

As presented, the development would place 15 two-unit townhomes and one single-unit townhome on 4.14 acres of land that, as part of the rezoning and townhome exemption process, would be annexed into the city.

If approved, the new RT5.4 zoning would allow 8 units per acre. The current zoning, as well as zoning in surrounding neighborhoods, allows 4 units per acre.

And therein lies the foundational argument of the development’s critics: The development is too crowded and out of sync – in design and density – with homes on surrounding streets.

Echoing the concerns of residents near a planned Flynn Lane townhome development several weeks ago, the Grove Street neighbors told council members that they always expected the vacant ground to be developed.

But they never expected it to be so densely packed.

“The proposed zoning would create an island of high-density structures inconsistent with the character of the neighborhood,” said a single-spaced, three-page statement read – three minutes at a turn – by the surrounding homeowners.

“The proposed zoning would not allow for the light agricultural use characteristic of the neighborhood. The height and size of the structures proposed in the conditional use permit application would be particularly uncharacteristic of the surrounding properties.”

Morgan Hirschenberger led off the reading, and told council members that all the neighbors were in agreement.

“Nobody in our group is against housing development,” he said. “But we are against the density proposed here.”

Dylan McFarland, a Missoula attorney who lives near the proposed townhomes, said everyone who built in the area did so because of its widely spaced lots and agricultural feel.

There’s none of that in the proposed Grove Street development, he said. There, the homes are closely spaced.

The townhomes’ design is “sterile,” several neighbors complained. And nothing has been done to address the extra traffic the homes will bring to Grove Street, Third Street and ultimately North Reserve, many said.

“I’ve lived in Orchard Homes for 27 years,” said Terry Wagner. “Originally, it was a very bucolic area. My neighbors were cows, llamas, horses.”

“I understand when you live in a fast-growing area, things are going to change,” he said. “And generally, the development we’ve seen until now has been very good and acceptable.”

But not the Grove Street proposal, Wagner said. It’s too dense, the homes are too bland and cookie-cutter. The traffic will have nowhere to go – and the street system already can barely accommodate a pair of passing cars.

A significant number of the residents said they received no notice of the development or of the public hearing, as required by law – or they received notice too late to file a formal protest.

In fact, the neighborhood met for its first look at the proposal on Sunday night and quickly drew up the response read at Monday’s council meeting.

Councilwoman Marilyn Marler, who represents the area, said others on the west side of Missoula are excited about the proposal because it includes about 6.19 acres of open space for the city and the extension of the Milwaukee Trail past the townhomes.

“This trail and park will be a wonderful thing for our neighborhood,” she said. “A really nice thing. But that’s not related to the concerns about the zoning, of course.”

Marler did not run for re-election, so will leave the City Council at the end of December.

And neighbors at Monday’s meeting said, while they appreciate the open space and trail, they see no plan for handling parking at the site.

Councilwoman Michelle Cares agreed. “Can we hear from Parks and Rec about the parking for the trail and park?” she asked.

Several council members indicate they’d like more discussion about the proposed density and how that meshes with the considerably less dense surrounding neighborhoods.

Councilman John DiBari made the official request to send the proposal back to committee – and indicated that probably cannot happen until after the new year.

That means Monday’s public hearing will be continued until the matter eventually makes its way back to the full City Council.