Missoula City Council schedules mega-night of public hearings

Members of the public line up at City Hall on Monday night, Aug. 27, 2018, to weigh in on the Fiscal Year 2019 budget, with most opposing a tax increase of 3.85 percent. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

If you’re hankering to give the Missoula City Council 3 minutes of advice, mark June 17 on your calendar.

That’s the night council members have six public hearings on their agenda, covering everything from e-bike share systems to alcohol in city parks and an open space purchase in Hellgate Canyon.

Approved at this week’s council meeting, the lengthy list of hearings will give citizens a chance to comment on a number of regulatory changes that city staff members have proposed in recent months.

All have made it through an initial round of Q&As, discussion and votes in City Council committees.

At least one local resident, Ross Best, has criticized the public process that led to several major regulatory changes to be considered at the June 17 mega-meeting.

In comments at this week’s council meeting, Best said the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board should have had a more public review and discussion of proposals to add e-bikes and e-scooters to the city’s bicycle regulations, as well as a dockless share system for rental e-bikes.

Best urged the council to stop its consideration of the proposals until the advisory council could reconsider e-bikes, scooters and rental systems after providing more public notice.

Similarly, Best said proposed changes to the city’s park and trail regulations included several of particular interest to pedestrians like himself who use city trails to get around town and must compete for space with bicycles.

Those, too, need more consideration and public airing by the bicycle and pedestrian board, in Best’s estimation.

“These two proposals have not been properly put before the Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Board or the public,” he said.

Later in the meeting, council members disagreed with Best, saying the June 17 public hearings are the opportunity for public comment – made on the record, before the council makes any decisions.

City Council members will get an earful on June 17. (Missoula Current file photo)

That was the whole purpose of this week’s vote to schedule the hearings, giving the public a full two weeks to prepare, said Councilman Jordan Hess.

“It’s a more robust notification,” he said. “There will be plenty of opportunity for discussion.”

Councilman John DiBari thanked Hess for his remarks, but added that it would be good for the council to receive any commentary from members of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board before the June 17 meeting.

Here, at a glance, are the public hearings on the agenda for June 17:

  • Comments on a resolution amending the city of Missoula budget and capital improvement program to increase the total budgeted expenditures by $4,788 to add a coordinated entry program specialist position in the Housing & Community Development department. This staff member works with homeless residents to connect them with the full range of available local social services, and to get them off the streets. Here’s a link to the proposed resolution.
  • A pair of public hearings will address definitions and regulations needed to manage e-bikes and scooters on Missoula trails, as well as a possible future dockless share system for rental e-bikes. Bicycle pedestrian coordinator Ben Weiss said the city wants to get ahead of needed regulations while permitting what’s increasingly seen as an affordable and green transportation option.

Bikes generally fall into three categories, and proposed city rules would allow Class 1 and 2 vehicles where regular bicycles are currently allowed, including commuter trails. Class 2 bikes top out at roughly 20 mph, while Class 1 bikes are slower and rely more heavily on pedal power.

But Class 3 bikes can reach speeds of 28 mph and aren’t considered bicycles by the state. As a result, they would be forbidden on city trails and restricted to the streets. Here’s a link to the proposals.

  • Another hearing will provide a chance to comment on the proposed expenditure of $91,300 from the city’s portion of the 2006 Open Space Bond funds to purchase a trail and riparian protection easement across 1505 East Broadway and secure a trail easement across the adjacent property.

The purchase would connect the non-motorized trail on the north shore of the Clark Fork River, securing safe pedestrian and bicycle access from Missoula to Easy Street in East Missoula.

The narrow parcel, located adjacent to Creekside Apartments, was initially purchased by a private developer who planned to build a seven-unit condominium on the site, with no room for the riverside trail.

The city purchased the parcel last year for around $326,000 and plans to recover the funding by reselling the parcel, this time with the easement intact.

Here’s more information on the proposal.

  • The Parks and Recreation staff has proposed amending Chapter 2.28 of the Missoula Municipal Code entitled “Parks and Recreation Board” for the purpose updating the required qualifications of a board member. The full proposal to be considered on June 17 is available here.
  • Also from Parks and Rec is a lengthy reworking of the regulations governing Missoula’s parks and trails, subject of yet another public hearing. As presented to the City Council, the amended regulations are “for the purpose of encouraging and enhancing the public’s recreational experience and use of City owned public parks, trails, and conservation lands within the City; while at the same time establishing reasonable restrictions and limitations intended to preserve and protect these lands and the people using these lands as well as the native vegetation on some of these lands and the wildlife that live in or use these lands and to allow the public’s shared multi-purpose use of these lands to be a more satisfying and pleasurable recreational experience.”

The proposed changes clarify parking, camping and hours of operation for city parks. It sets new rules for the consumption of alcohol, addresses inappropriate behavior and adds new definitions to trail safety.

The city will post new trail signs to educate commuters and define reckless cycling. That’s likely to reflect state code covering the same for motor vehicles. It will also include failing to yield the right of way, or failing to give an audible warning before overtaking a pedestrian or slower cyclist.

The amended ordinance would also address the city’s skatepark, primarily by allowing scooters and making helmets optional for adults. The use of BMX bikes at the skatepark would remain illegal under the proposed changes.

While the consumption of alcohol would remain illegal in most city parks, the City Council will consider making exceptions in a number of select locations, if the individual seeking permission is old enough to consume alcohol under state law and has a permit from the city.

Under the proposal, liquor also would be permitted in the Caras Park and Fort Missoula Regional Park pavilions, also with a permit and only when it’s served by a caterer who possesses a state license.

Here’s an earlier report with more details on the proposed regulations.

And a link to the actual ordinance.