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Several members of the Missoula City Council have been inundated with calls and emails and are working on a way to address public outrage over a proposed redevelopment of the Missoulian construction site.

Last week, a team of developers announced they had purchased the newspaper property at 500 S. Higgins and had plans for a $100 million project that includes high-end condos, restaurants and other retail space. by retail. The Missoulian newspaper will move to a new office in the city in the spring.

The proposal and concept designs have angered many people in Missoula because there is an ongoing affordable housing crisis and concern is high about gentrification. Additionally, one of the out-of-state developers, Aaron Wagner, had to apologize last week after a series of despicable and insulting comments he made towards locals on Instagram.

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Councilor Gwen Jones, who represents Ward 3 – which includes the Missoulian property – said many people seem to think the council has some power to block development.

She received 40 emails and many of her fellow board members spent the weekend responding to people, she said.

“Our focus is that there’s a lot of misinformation out there about what the council can and can’t do, and how those projects come to fruition,” she said. “We have no tools to change the design, change the developer or demand affordable housing. We have no tools to do that.”

Jones and some council members are preparing an op-ed to clarify their position on the matter, she said. She also plans to address some concerns at Monday night’s city council meeting.

“The majority of emails I’ve received express incredible frustration with affordable housing in Missoula, which I receive,” she said. “We’ve been working on it for years and we’ll continue to work on it.”

Jones recently asked Mayor John Engen what three issues will take up most of council’s time next year, and he replied “housing, housing and housing,” she said.

“I would also put climate change in there, but the fact is, yeah, it’s a huge issue,” Jones said. “We need state and federal tools to come and help us because we’ve done a tremendous amount of work locally. But as these emails show, we need to make more progress on this.”

Jones has three college-age children who may never be able to live here, she said.

“People feel he’s drifting away,” she said.

Jones is aware of an online petition that opposes the redevelopment of the site, she said. He had collected more than 6,440 signatures by Monday afternoon. The petition, created by an anonymous Change.org user, has no legal authority. However, he orders people to call their local government officials.

“If you believe in sustainability and stand up to wealthy developers in California and Utah who are exploiting your city to build more second homes – which only widens the chasm in our community already struggling with affordable housing – please consider signing this petition,” he said. “Tell the Missoula City Council and Mayor John Engen that Wagner Capital and Bergquist Development must respect, not exploit, the citizens of Missoula.”

Daniel Carlino, who won a city council seat in the November election but has yet to be sworn in, posted on social media over the weekend his opposition to the plan.

“This development proposal does not appear to align with the character of our community or the values ​​of Missulians, so we must not let this be the start of a new wave of gentrification,” Carlino wrote on Instagram. “Although the city council has already approved the rezoning of this area and the developer has purchased the old Missoulian building, it is not too late to stop this tide. Now is the perfect time to express yourself!

Carlino asked his supporters to contact the developers, Mayor Engen and the city council to express their concerns about the project.

Asked if he was worried about giving people an unrealistic expectation that the city council and mayor have the power to stop or drastically change the project, Carlino said he thinks people should be heard. .

“I believe the mayor and city council need to hear from the people of Missoul about where we want to go in the future,” he said. “People are unhappy with the increase in housing prices and rents and the role local government has played in gentrifying parts of Missoula.”

Jones said she was aware of Carlino’s online posts. She added that many people do not understand that the planning board and city council had limited information about the project when the two councils approved a rezoning at the site earlier this year. The rezoning allows housing and other commercial uses on the site, consistent with what is permitted on the Hip Strip, and also allows a height of 125 feet.

“A lot of times a rezoning comes along and we don’t know who’s going to buy the property and that’s not part of the equation,” Jones said. “We can’t condition a rezoning. We can’t say, ‘oh we want to condition affordable housing.’ Under Montana state law, that’s not allowed. It’s an up or down vote. We passed it on the information before us.”

She points out that the Missoula Growth Policy, approved with extensive public input, calls for high-density housing and commercial development on the Missoulian Building site. That’s why city council and the planning board approved the rezoning, she said.

“So when somebody buys it, under our capitalist system of private ownership, they decide how they develop it,” Jones said. “As long as they come to town with a valid application, then the permit will be granted. Otherwise, we are overstepping our bounds and exposing ourselves to a lawsuit that we will lose.”

She noted that developers will still be held to new standards for design excellence, passed by City Council after outrage over the construction of the neon-soaked Verizon store on East Broadway.

Jones thinks developer Aaron Wagner’s comments last week were “reprehensible,” she said.

“His callousness went to a vulnerable place and he struck a chord,” she said.

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