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Missoula County Denies Zoning Change for More Housing in East Missoula




The zoning applies to the parcel outlined in blue in East Missoula.

Citing a lack of certainty, Missoula County this week denied a request to revoke zoning created specifically for a single lot in East Missoula, even though it would have brought 59 affordable housing units to the market and the possibility of greater project flexibility.

By doing so, the property will remain limited to 44 units with no ground-floor commercial. Commissioners based their decision in part on public opposition to the greater number of housing units and a lack of certainty over what could be built if the old zoning were revoked.

“I don’t think this will move us in the direction we want to go,” Commissioner Dave Strohmaier said of the developer’s request to build more units. “It’s less about density and more about design standards that encourage the possibly of ground-level commercial.”

The current zoning variation was created in 2011 for the single parcel and it caps the permitted number of housing units to 44. Given that restriction, it doesn’t allow room for a viable commercial opportunity on the ground floor.

But if the county had revoked the 2011 variation, the developer had pledged to include a commercial space on the ground floor, which is something both the county and the neighborhood wanted.

At the same time, however, Strohmaier and others feared that new zoning would allow a project on a larger scale, which is something the neighborhood was opposed to.

“The current zoning and place for this property limits the apartment units to 44, which is far more preferable than 59 units of single bedroom and efficiency units stumped three stories high that lends itself to being more of a transient community,” said East Missoula Community Council member Lee Bridges. “It’s a load on our infrastructure and doesn’t help us achieve the goals we set forth in our growth plan.”

A rendering of the project proposed if the county had lifted the old zoning placed on the parcel. (IMEG image)

The Consolidated Planning Board in November approved the requested revocation of old zoning, saying it would bring the property in line with surrounding zoning and allow for a greater array of uses, including more housing and the potential for ground-floor commercial.

Building to a higher density would make the resulting housing more affordable, the development team said.

“The entire character and spirit of this project is to create affordable units,” said Joe Dehnert of IMEG, which is representing the project. “They want to put forth these 59 units to make them affordable.”

Some East Missoula residents were concerned about building heights, though Dehnert said the difference between 44 units and 59 units would result in eight additional feet.

Given other structures in East Missoula, the difference was negligible, Dehnert added.

“There’s examples of three-story townhouses that are near single-family residences,” Dehnert said. “From our perspective, why not make it more affordable for people who want to live in the area and make it 59 units. The developer wants the ability to exercise the right of (surrounding zoning) and enjoy the benefits others have under that zoning.”

The county’s decision to deny revocation of the old zoning marks the second time in as many months it has quashed a proposal to bring additional housing units to the market. Last month, the county declined a request to develop the Larchmont Golf Course with several thousand housing units in exchange for building a new golf course nearby.

In denying it, commissioners also cited lack of certainty and directed staff instead to review all county-held land and any other assets that could be dedicated to housing.

Strohmaier said the East Missoula proposal wasn’t a good fit.

“What creates true character, a sense of community and culture is not monolithic housing,” Strohmaier said. “I don’t see this appreciably moving us in the direction of a neighborhood center.”



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Like Human Children, Great Apes Are Inclined to Learn From Teaching




A new study by researchers from Central European University’s (CEU) Department of Cognitive Science, Eotvos Lorand University (ELTE), the University of St. Andrews, and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology look at whether apes are similar to humans regarding learning capacities when someone is trying to teach them something. The study, “Learning from communication versus observation in great apes,” was published on February 21, 2022 in Scientific Reports.

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Missoula Planning Board Approves Rezone Request for River Road Subdivision




The developers are seeking to rezone 2.3 acres off River Road to accommodate a 19-unit housing project. The parcel is located in the center of this photo.

The consolidated planning board on Tuesday night approved a zoning request for a 19-unit subdivision planned on two acres off River Road, saying it aligned with Missoula’s growth policy and goals around housing.

The project, proposed by Robert and Coleen Anderson and represented by the IMEG Corp., cleared the planning board on an 8-1 vote, despite the concerns of the residents in a neighboring development.

While members of the planning board heard those concerns, they agreed the property was suitable for the project and that it met city policies.

“I think this is a good space for a subdivision, both with access to services, access to parks and the slated improvements to River Road coming down the pipeline,” said board member Ellie Costello. “It does feel like we’re putting the cart before the horse sometimes with subdivisions, but the infrastructure does come to those spaces.”

City planning staff also recommended approval of the rezone with four variances, including a narrower street and a longer block length. The property is a deep but narrow lot, not unlike a number of other subdivisions already established in the same area.

“The housing policy, from the growth policy, links housing affordability to the ability to achieve more compact development,” said Joe Dehnert with IMEG. “It’s one of the driving factors for the developer in this project. The property location is ideal for infill development.”

The layout proposed for the 19-lot development.

Without approval of the rezone, Dehnert said the project would likely be unfeasible, or the housing units would cost far more.

“This aligns with the city’s housing goals and the growth policy while still being economically feasible for the developer,” Dehnert said. “Without the proposed rezone to allow for the higher density development and the proposed variances to accommodate the slightly narrower road, the project would become unaffordable for future residents, or undesirable to developers due to the reduced density.”

The project would set next to the Orchard Homes subdivision, which includes 14 housing units on property of a similar size. Residents there oppose the project and have cited concerns over parking, congestion and the poor condition of River Road.

“We understand that development is necessary for Missoula, but bad development isn’t necessary,” one resident said. “The infrastructure for River Road is so horrendous. To shove 19 houses in an area zoned for 10, I don’t know why we have to keep granting variances for homes that destroy other neighborhoods.”

The request for the rezone will now advance to the Missoula City Council for consideration in March.

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Empty Nutrient Standards Rule for Montana Waters Gives Little Chance for Public Comment




Public hearings aren’t very fruitful if a state agency provides little to comment on in order to dodge a deadline.

Tuesday was the Department of Environmental Quality’s deadline for public comment on Rule 1, a vague outline of an adaptive management program that will eventually use narrative instead of numeric standards to manage Montana’s waters.

But the eight commenters who rose during the public hearing – four in support of the rule and four against – had little new to contribute beyond what has been said for the past several months.

That’s because DEQ was facing a March 1 deadline to publish a rule that would switch the state from numeric limits for nitrogen and phosphorus concentration in streams and lakes to narrative standards. The 2021 Legislature passed on a party-line vote Senate Bill 358, which forces DEQ to reject numeric limits and set a March 1 deadline for the rule to be finalized.

However, a nutrient working group – diverse stakeholders who’ve been meeting since May – hasn’t been able to develop a narrative standard they can agree on, let alone one that satisfies the Environmental Protection Agency. If the EPA determines the state rule doesn’t go far enough to protect state waters, the EPA will take over.

So the DEQ hedged by coming up with Rule 1, a “framework” for the rule instead of the rule itself, by March 1, which the public was to comment on. DEQ water quality scientist Michael Suplee said the department would provide the final specifics as part of Rule 2 later this year, by Sept. 1 at the latest. Some question whether that meets the intent of SB 358.

“The rules under consideration are only a first step. Substantive rules setting forth specifics of the adaptive management program as well as the required repeal of numeric standards are not part of this rule-making,” Suplee said. “As the rulemaking deadline approached, there remained a substantial amount of work for the department to complete to fully address the concerns of multiple parties. Rather than move forward with a comprehensive rule package, the department opted to adopt new Rule 1.”

But it’s hard to see only the chassis of a vehicle and know if you want to buy it.

Those who spoke in favor of Rule 1 were the same as those who backed SB358: representatives of extractive industries or municipalities, all of which discharge excess nitrogen and phosphorus into streams and require permits to do so. So they like the chassis, regardless of the rest of the vehicle, because they stand to benefit when the state stops using the numerical limits that have been in place since 2014.

But many of Montana’s less-challenged streams still have narrative standards. Narrative or qualitative standards are words used to describe what water should look or behave like. But often, water quality is already compromised by the time people can see a problem.

That’s why most water quality standards, such as arsenic or copper concentrations, are numeric. With numeric standards, once an activity causes the concentration of nitrogen or phosphorus to exceed a safe amount, it needs to be reduced. That’s because an overload of nutrients – nitrogen or phosphorus – causes algae to grow out of control, robbing the water of oxygen and sometimes producing toxins.

Still, only some of Montana’s streams need numeric standards. They’ve taken 30 years to develop and are a good measure of just how much pollution should be allowed before water quality suffers. But numeric standards sometimes require polluters to either reduce their production or install controls that could be expensive.

Kelly Lynch, Montana League of Cities and Towns executive director, said Montana’s 127 incorporated towns have spent millions to remove excess nutrients from their sewage discharge.

“We’re at the point where further improvements are not financially feasible,” Lynch said. “Reverse osmosis is expensive.”

However, the state of Montana already recognized that and provided variances for up to 17 years for 36 sewage treatment plants.

Because Rule 1 provided so few specifics to argue against, Guy Alsentzer of Upper Missouri Waterkeeper only highlighted the fact the plan mentions no method of enforcement if standards are breached. Other opponents cited the overall problem with SB 358 mandating a process that ignores science and could harm state waters.

“SB358 is the tree that’s giving birth to the rules in front of us. We take objection with SB358 itself, and new Rule 1 and its associated definitions are unequivocally fruits of this poisonous tree,” said. “Narrative standards have been recognized by the department, the EPA and expert scientists across the nation as ineffective and inadequate to protect waterways from nutrient pollution.”

Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at


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