Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) A developer's appeal of the Historic Preservation Commission's denial of their project to build housing on private property while restoring the historic hospital at Fort Missoula will be heard early next year, members of the City Council said on Monday.

The hearing was initially slated for November, but the date was too aggressive and a number of steps needed to conduct an objective hearing will take more time to put in place.

“A lot of public comment is coming and it will be heard in the long run once we hear this appeal,” said council president Gwen Jones. “The appellate has requested that all documents go into a document deposit. It's a reasonable request, but will take some time.”

The developers behind the Fort Missoula Commons project have secured legal representation and have appealed the Historic Preservation Commission's vote to deny their plans to construct 16 condos on private property to help fund the restoration of the Old Post Hospital.

The developers argue that members of the commission violated their due process rights and “failed to provide a fair, objective consideration.”

Those behind the project also contend that several members of the commission may have a conflict of interest, which should have resulted in their recusal. Of the seven members present on May 3 when the board recommended denial of the project, only one recused himself from voting.

“Members of the HPC participated and voted on the application despite circumstances which suggest that recusal may be appropriate, such as having relationships (formal and otherwise) with groups or organizations publicly opposed to the application,” the appeal states.

The initial hearing date set for later this year had a number of issues, the city said on Monday. Among them, City Clerk Marty Rehbein will be retiring after 30 years on the job. That office will be down a position, and it's charged with maintaining the document deposit, which will include facts, statements, emails and other issues from both sides related to the case.

The holidays also create a problem, as do the municipal elections. Several new members of City Council will be elected, and Missoula will vote on a new mayor.

“If we're going to continue this, it's an opportunity for us to rework the briefing schedule a little bit,” said Jones. “There was concern there wasn't enough time to digest the briefs that will be submitted. We can put a little more space into that schedule.”

Max Wolf climbs the stairs to the fourth floor of the empty hospital. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file)
Max Wolf climbs the stairs to the fourth floor of the empty hospital. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file)

While the measure to postpone the hearing until early next year passed on a unanimous vote, council member Daniel Carlino sought to amend the hearing to ensure it takes place “within typical city council meeting hours,” meaning only Monday or Wednesday.

That measure failed on a 10-2 vote, with only Kristen Jordan joining Carlino in support.

“If you ask the average person when we're supposed to work, no one would have a set time for that,” said council member Stacie Anderson. “I don't necessarily think we have set hours in this position, and we need to be flexible.”

The last appeal of a commission vote heard by the City Council took place several years ago over the Mercantile project. That hearing took several weeks and was parceled out in bits over time.

Unlike that appeal, which the ruled in favor of, members hope to conduct the hearing on Fort Missoula in a single day with no interruptions.