By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

One member of the Missoula City Council was called out for offering “disingenuous” statements on Monday night in both comments entered into the official record and for posts made to social media, and not for the first time.

An 850 square-foot easement for fire access in Kiwanis Park requested by a Missoula developer who plans to increase the amount of housing in the downtown district led Ward 3 council member Daniel Carlino last week to inflate the number of tenants who would be impacted by the project.

Carlino, who opposes the easement and attempted to delay a vote, repeated his figures on social media and again on Monday night despite data provided by the developer, who said four to five tenants – not 12 to 15 as stated by Carlino – would eventually be impacted when construction begins in the coming months.

“We told all these folks the truth about this property when we bought it back in 2018,” said Matt Sullivan, who is developing the property with his wife. “I heard this disinformation the last time from Carlino that we're killing all the housing that people live in. That's just not true, Daniel (Carlino). We rent to the mid-market of Missoula.”

The developers, MC Real Estate Development, need the small easement to adhere to city building and fire codes. It's seeking 850 square feet of space to provide it.

While the vote was non-political initially, Carlino attempted to delay it by pitting the developer – and the rest of City Council – against the tenants who remain on the property. Carlino also has insisted that he was “the only renter” on City Council, which isn't true.

Council member Sandra Vasecka also rents her residence, as do 52% of Missoulians, according to housing statistics.

“If we grant the easement, they could keep collecting rent, or they have a bigger financial incentive to create 18 units and have much more money coming in every month,” Carlino said. “We have power over their financial incentive.”

The vacancy rate in Missoula has increased in recent months, rising above 2% for the first time in years, according to housing experts. Carlino said he was “surprised” at the figure and suggested the City Council was playing favorites with developers.

A rezone request for lower Grant Creek was approved by the City Council last month and was supported by Carlino. On Monday, however, he suggested the Grant Creek developers had received favorable treatment in receiving what he described as “a delay.”

That drew the ire of nearly all other council members, who labeled his statement as another outright lie.

“Grant Creek folks got a delay imposed upon them,” said council member Jordan Hess. “They didn't want a delay. They said as much at the meeting. I just wanted to correct the record on that.”

“I'm not sure what delay my colleague is talking about,” added council member Mirtha Becerra. “That first rezone was denied in Grant Creek. Two years later they came back with a different proposal. Trying to equate two different scenarios isn't helping the conversation we're having now.”

Carlino then suggested that “perhaps the developers in Grant Creek didn't want the delay.” Carlino was alone in his argument given that council member Kristen Jorden, who backs Carlino most of the time, didn't attend Monday's meeting.

The project proposed by MC Real Estate will result in roughly 21 working class apartments, according to the developer. That represents an increase in housing in the downtown district and replaces what most agree is a dilapidated property, which the couple purchased with the intent of redeveloping.

On all accounts, the property owners have been transparent about their plans since purchasing the property four years ago. They're seeking emergency egress to the site, which several council members said represented a minor request that shouldn't warrant such extensive debate.

The tenants remaining on the property could be displaced regardless of whether the easement was granted, said council member Stacie Anderson. It's a parameter granted within state - not city- law.

“This decision doesn't have the ability to change any of that. To imply otherwise is incredibly disingenuous, because you're implying that we're in it for the landlords or the developers,” said Anderson. “That's hogwash and that's not what this is. It's incredibly frustrating to imply otherwise to create this sense that it's us versus them when that's not the case. We do better when we work together on these things.”

Members of the council suggested Carlino had set up a scenario of “us versus them” while ignoring state law, offering false promises and neglecting the actual vote on the table and its legal bookends.

They also pushed back on Carlino's claim that he alone was concerned with housing opportunities, costs and affordability. He doesn't have a corner on such claims, they said.

“Members of this body think about gentrification every day, housing prices every day, houselessness and the impact our housing crisis has every day,” said Hess. “Everyone in our community deserves a safe, affordable and reasonable place to live, but that's not the decision before us. It's inappropriate for members of this body to imply that it's the decision before us. We don't have power over that. To say otherwise is disingenuous and it's false. It gives people false hope, and that's really inappropriate to me.”

While the council called Carlino out for his divisive and misleading statements, members did listen to the concerns of renters and took their statements to heart.

Both elected officials and Missoula's renters understand the challenges of the city's housing issues, and the city is working to resolve it – spending millions of dollars of taxpayer money in many projects to subsidize housing opportunities.

“I think we need to think more deeply about the value of replacing housing that people are using and displacing them into a market where it's going to be extremely difficult to find equivalent housing or even housing at all,” said renter Gwen Nicholson. “There should be more of a voice from tenants.”

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