by William Skink
Last month there was some good news on the affordable housing front when city and county officials announced a major affordable housing project to be built on land the county donated near the detention center. This housing will be targeting some of the most difficult to house individuals.
While this project is encouraging, Missoula’s persistent gentrification is removing other affordable housing options from the housing landscape. Once the Russell Bridge is finished, for example, low-rent motels like the Colonial are sure to be scraped, especially since that part of Broadway is a Trump Opportunity Zone.
Another looming development was announced last October when the owner of the Montaignes, located on the Hip Strip, warned tenants that change is coming once all the hurdles to gentrify the hip strip out of existence are surmounted.
You may think that last part sounds hyperbolic, but just you wait and see. It’s not just the affordable residential units under threat of disappearing, but the local small businesses as well.
Is getting rid of those small businesses the reason why Ken Duce (pronounced douche?) implied some of his commercial tenants are financially unreliable? Here’s what Duce had to say about his tenants from that Missoulian article last October:
The ground-floor retail stores include Bathing Beauties Beads, Shakespeare & Co. independent bookstore, Carlo’s One Night Stand vintage clothing and costumes, The Sports Exchange outdoor gear consignment shop, Joseph’s Coat yarn and fiber shop, and Logan’s Boot and Shoe Repair.
“The building is not a safe place to live anymore,” Duce explained. “The plumbing is constantly leaking. My partner that manages the building complains constantly about how much we spend on a constant basis with Fred the plumber. All those nice stores that are really fun to have in Missoula, they’re there because we pay their rent. They pay us almost nothing.”
Full disclosure, I am a very loyal customer of one of the businesses mentioned and had a conversation yesterday that was indicative of what development in Missoula has become. People who will be impacted by these changes are being excluded from meetings, they are being given condescending lip service from city leaders, and it sounds like they are being lied to in some circumstances.
You think Missoula is an inclusive community that supports local businesses and local artists? Sure, that’s the idea city leaders like to sell the public on, but reality can feel much different for those in the cross-hairs of gentrification.
Getting back to the article, the main hurdle keeping this project going forward appears to be parking:
Duce said the city’s planning department told him he would need 190 parking spaces because city zoning laws require a parking spot for every four chairs in a restaurant. The building is served by public transit and has some parking spot reductions “grandfathered in,” so Duce estimates that he needs to find 89 more spots to meet requirements. He told the Historic Preservation Commission that he would like them to grant a request in the future to reduce that number.
He also said he may try to get a zoning change, although he’s aware that neighbors in the area might be concerned about overflow parking spilling into residential streets. He said he’s also worked with Mayor John Engen and the Boone and Crockett Club, which owns the railroad depot building nearby and a parking lot, to see if they’d be interested in leasing parking spots. It will be a complicated process, and members of the Historic Preservation Commission said they couldn’t make a decision at this time.
Emy Sherrer, the city’s historic preservation officer, said that smaller restaurants like Clyde Coffee and Ciao Mambo on the Hip Strip were granted waivers by the previous officer in the past because they wanted a reduction of a small number of spaces. City code states that city zoning officer Mike Haynes, in consultation with Sherrer, are authorized to approve exceptions and waivers to minimum off-street parking ratios.
“Since this is such a large request, nothing has been determined/resolved as of yet,” Sherrer told the Missoulian in an email.
In another article that solicited responses from local businesses, the owner of Carlo’s One Night Stand had this to say about change along the Hip Strip:
Gilliam said modernization and redevelopment is slowly changing the character of the district.
“Pretty soon, you won’t be able to call it the Hip Strip anymore,” he said.
To those who will be negatively impacted by this little piece of Missoula getting the gentrification treatment, I have some advice: don’t trust anything that comes out of Mayor Engen’s mouth, and watch out for City Council person Gwen Jones. I know from personal experience what can happen when you criticize the policies that turns the screws on Missoulians who aren’t developers, property owners, or donors to political campaigns.