Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) After last week's disagreement on process and timing, the Missoula City Council this week approved a request asking city staff and their consultants to include parking reform on a list of items that could best address the city's housing shortage.

Initially, proponents of shrinking or eliminating Missoula's parking requirements wanted to implement an ordinance immediately and not wait for the city's code reform process to play out. But that measure looked doomed to fail and instead, the city is asking that parking reforms be included as a menu item that could be selected to create more housing.

“This shows the community that this is a topic of discussion we're looking to address in more depth,” said council member Gwen Jones. “But it gives the consultants the time and flexibility to look at it holistically. It gives us flexibility and we'll be in a position to hear the rational from the consultants on what will be the most effective first steps.”

The city in December kicked off an effort to reform its codes to better align with the Our Missoula growth policy. The process is likely to take several years to play out but once it's finished, the hope is that it streamlines development and makes it easier to deliver affordable housing.

Along the way, the consultants and city staff are expected to recommend a package of “early deliverables,” which the city could implement this year. Parking requirements will be included in the package as a result of Wednesday's unanimous vote.

“I was not going to be supportive of the original (proposal),” said council member Stacie Anderson. “I felt it was too directive in a space where we're working with our consultants to figure out what's the best thing we can do to have the most immediate impact. I believe that's the goal we all share, to address housing stock and affordability as early as possible.”

The city's current parking mandates require that a set number of spaces be provided, depending on the type of development. But supporters of parking reform believe that parking lots eat up valuable land that could go to other uses.

Reducing parking requirements could lead to more housing and more retail opportunities, supporters said.

“It's a good step toward increasing our housing supply, toward taking action on stopping the climate crisis, toward allowing people to have yards or gardens, or more units on a project rather than turning more land into asphalt,” said council member Daniel Carlino.

Along with parking, the city is also exploring shared mobility, or the use of rented electric bikes and scooters, ride share, car share and other services.

“Parking is absolutely something we need to look at in this code reform process,” said council member Amber Sherrill. “As we look at parking, and as we look at ride share and car share, it's going to be an interesting conversation about how we build and make that work for everyone in all situations.”