Congratulating board members for designing a “fabulous” new Missoula Public Library, City Council members on Monday insisted that sidewalks around the building be wide and richly landscaped to provide a buffer for the surrounding neighborhood.
The library is a separate governmental entity so did not need the council’s approval for anything except the vacation of a city right-of-way in the center of the building site.
That request necessitated a “decision of some gravity,” said Ward 2 Councilman Jordan Hess. “It’s a loss of public space that has to be offset by some public benefit.”
Thus came the two conditions added by council members during Monday night’s meeting, the first requiring a minimum 10-foot-wide boulevard landscape area and boulevard sidewalk with a minimum of 7 feet of clearance along East Front Street.
That requirement came directly from city ordinance, which requires boulevard sidewalks on East Front Street, Hess said.
“It’s important to continue the pattern of boulevard sidewalks that’s been established along Front Street,” he said.
The new library will be built on the block directly east of the existing library. It will be bordered by Front, Adams, Main and Jefferson streets.
The second new condition (city staff had previously added four conditions of approval) requires the site plan to “prioritize boulevard-landscaped areas to the maximum extent possible” and sidewalks with a minimum of 7 feet of clearance on Jefferson and Adams streets.
“It’s important that we situate this project in the broader context of our downtown area,” Hess said. “It is in a very interesting transition zone; it has one foot in the downtown area and another foot in this historic neighborhood with longtime residences and a transition to the river area and parkways.”
Ward 2 Councilwoman Gwen Jones said the wider sidewalks will provide “a much better walking experience and will be far more inviting.”
The city requires boulevards in residential areas whenever it can, she said. “It’s aesthetically beautiful. It’s a much better walking experience. People will continue to live in this neighborhood for many, many decades.”
The entire library project, Jones added, “will be fabulous.”
Hess said he, too, has “strong faith in the library” and fully supports its work and the $36 million construction project.
Ward 5 Councilwoman Julie Armstrong said she sees the library as one of Missoula’s “equalizing forces,” like playgrounds and trails. “It needs to serve many functions. We need to make sure it serves everybody well.”
So the buffer zone with trees, the wide sidewalks suitable for pedestrian traffic, the bus pullout, and the well-landscaped site serve a higher purpose, she said, of offering a comfortable atmosphere to all types of library users.
Ward 4 Councilman Jesse Ramos said he’s been won over by library staff and board members in the process of reviewing the right-of-way vacation.
“I didn’t vote for this bond, but I am really excited about this project,” he said. “Staff has done a tremendous job.”
Final designs for the new library are expected within weeks, with groundbreaking to follow.
Missoula voters approved a $30 million bond to finance the bulk of the new building. Private donors are being asked to provide another $5.5 million in funding, with the library and its foundation contribution the final $500,000.