Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) While the Missoula City Council has no say in the matter, on Monday night it took comment from several individuals opposed to a University of Montana plan to expand parking on campus.

According to city staff, the university's plans to create four new surface lots don't currently meet the city's requirement for landscaping along the street frontage and interior portion of the lots.

While that may be so, the university is considered a government agency and the campus is public land, placing it beyond the reach of city zoning. The city is entitled to hold a public hearing on the issue, however, and submit feedback to university officials.

“Whenever an agency proposes to use public land contrary to local zoning regulations, a public hearing must be held to allow for comment on the proposed use,” said city planner Jon Sand. “The City Council doesn't have the power to deny or condition the request. The university is considered a state government agency and is permitted to vary from zoning through this public process.”

The university plans to place a new UM sign at the confluence of Maurice and Arthur avenues and create four new parking lots at various campus locations. They include the campus tennis courts near the University Center, near Aber and Miller halls, and the stadium Championship Center.

The University of Montana's proposed parking expansion.
The University of Montana's proposed parking expansion.

School officials said additional parking is needed to accommodate students who will occupy the university's new $100 million, 600-bed residence hall.

“We're taking away a lot of parking where the residence hall is going,” said Barbara Skeesick. “This is one way to give back, so students have somewhere to park. We are actually putting in trees, shrubs and plants.”

Several people spoke against the proposal on Monday night including Adam Cook, who said the proposal only offers more incentive to commute to campus by car. Converting the space to parking equates to “selling the land for scrap,” he said, adding that other uses would offer greater benefits to students.

Cook also suggested that the university's plan is a result of the city's own zoning flaws, which he said push students further away from campus living.

“As we go through the process of code reform, this is a teachable moment,” he said. “We're reaping what we sowed in terms of getting more people living further away from campus because we've effectively made it illegal to build student housing anywhere within walking distance to campus. We need to make drastic and decisive zoning reforms within the University District.”