Despite neighbors’ pleas, City Council approves Beckwith Avenue infill homes

Missoula City Council members unanimously approved the controversial rezoning at Monday night’s meeting. Council members Bryan Von Lossberg and Michelle Cares were absent.

Neighbors called the homes “monstrosities,” and said they’ll destroy the character of an old and much-loved Missoula neighborhood.

Homeowners who live in a similar development on another historic street called them artistic and one of the answers to Missoula’s housing affordability crisis.

City Council members said high-density development can provide high-quality housing – and promised the homes will quickly become part of the Slant Street neighborhood’s “tapestry.”

After 90 minutes of opinion-giving, the vote was unanimous in favor of the rezoning needed to place four homes at 201 W. Beckwith Ave., where two were previously allowed.

By then, most of the neighbors had left council chambers, certain their pleas for “no” votes would go unheeded.

Monday night’s rezoning request came from Torin Etter and Kadin Bardsley at EBC Development LLC. Etter told council members that he and Bardsley bought the property two blocks from Orange Street Food Farm in December.

Their 5-year-old company exclusively develops infill properties, he said, showing photographs of the homes – mostly narrow two- and three-story townhomes. Typically, they build 2-4 houses a year.

All four houses at 210 W. Beckwith will be stand-alone structures on separate lots ranging in size from 3,000 SF to 3,900 square feet.

An existing house on the property is in considerable disrepair and will be demolished, after which the 13,500-square-foot lot will be divided into four lots.

“Rezoning this property helps the city achieve its stated goals of focusing inward and compact development,” Etter said. “It will enable us to provide quality, efficient housing to more Missoulians in central areas with access to existing infrastructure and city services.”

Etter reminded council members that Missoula is expected to increase by 25,000 residents over the next 25 years – and that three-fourths of those newcomers are expected to settle in the so-called “urban service area.”

The Beckwith property is located in a part of town designated in the city’s long-range growth policy for high-density development.

The new RT 2.7 zoning would allow 16 units per acre, twice the density of the previous RT 5.4 zoning, according to Jenny Baker with Development Services. That’s less than the growth policy’s goal of 24 units per acre in the larger Rose Park area.

But that density doesn’t sit well with the neighborhood’s residents, more than a dozen of whom came to Monday night’s council meeting to protest the rezoning. One by one, they said the proposal will destroy the neighborhood’s character.

Jim Francisco, who has lived next-door to the rezoned property for 60 years, was the most adamant. His property line is within 6 feet of one of the planned shotgun-style homes.

“I’m dead set against it,” he said. “These monstrosities, these ugly houses will destroy the neighborhood.”

Dense development should occur in new areas of Missoula – out Mullan Road, for example, Francisco said.

“This is a nice neighborhood,” he pleaded. “We know each other. We get along. We take care of each other.”

Francisco and others said the alley where the four new homes will have their parking spots already is heavily traveled by drivers taking short cuts through the confusing maze of streets in the area.

“You just can’t put more cars in there without jeopardizing people’s safety,” he said. “Traffic on West Beckwith is crazy, and this is going to add more.”

But Councilwoman Gwen Jones, who represents the Ward 3 neighborhood and said she spent hours and hours studying the proposal, took a different approach.

Much higher-density development is scattered throughout the area, she said, pointing out the location of duplexes, triplexes, 18-plexes and 8-plexes nearby. There are also many single-family homes on double lots.

“There’s this tapestry that’s been created in the neighborhood,” Jones said, “and that, I think, creates its character.”

Councilwoman Stacie Anderson encouraged the neighbors to give the new homes and their eventual occupants a chance, remembering how much she wanted to live in Missoula’s core when she was looking for a home.

“I couldn’t find anything that I could afford,” she said. “These homes will let nice people and families move into a nice neighborhood that’s close to parks and schools and downtown and bus lines.”

“You might actually enjoy these new neighbors,” Anderson said.