Robert Hubble and Christina Voyles came home one day last month to find their driveway gone.
While working on a sidewalk project in the University area, the city of Missoula built a curb in a place once slated for a new driveway. Hubble and Voyles said they were content with their old asphalt and gravel driveway, but when the city said it would build them a new one as part of a sidewalks project in the neighborhood, they went along with the idea.
Then, they found their driveway missing, and their sprinklers smashed and burbling instead of spraying. Voyles said she joked about calling the police.
"Our driveway has been stolen. We'd like to file a report," was the comical message she considered.
A Public Works official said Wednesday the couple's driveway will be replaced, although the department hasn't decided whether to reinstall a few other Beckwith Avenue driveways where the city put in curbs.
While Voyles can find humor in the situation, the mishap hasn't been a laughing matter for the couple and has left them "jaded and disappointed" with City Hall.
Public Works director Steve King said Wednesday the city plans to fix its mistake, although he doesn't know when the work will be done. He also agreed the city had erred in its communications with Hubble and Voyles.
"That was our mistake, our miscommunication, that I acknowledge," King said. "I certainly don't want to diminish that."
But he said it's normal for a single family residence to have just one driveway, and this home had "perfectly functional" access in the alley.
The reason single homes typically have just one driveway is because every time a driveway crosses a sidewalk, the intersection creates a potential hazard, King said. The city also wants to eliminate people parking on grass in their front yards, a common complaint in the University area.
This particular driveway, though, is on its way back, King said: "He is going to get the driveway as originally planned and promised."
Hubble and Voyles are pleased to hear their driveway will be restored, but the interaction soured them some on city dealings. They couldn't afford the new sidewalks in the first place, although they didn't fight the project.
Then, the driveway disappeared. First, an inspector told them the city would replace it, but shortly after, another Public Works official told them municipal code justified the curb.
Hubble was incensed at the treatment and wrote a scathing letter to the city: "I waited 20 years before I could afford to buy a house in Missoula. When I could, I bought a rundown, rental drug house and spent three years improving it and enhancing the neighborhood. If I had realized the self-righteous, pitiful and unprofessional way the city runs roughshod over the people of Missoula, I would never have bought it."
In return, he received a bureaucratic missive. It said his driveway was removed because the parking space didn't conform to codes. It said there wasn't room on his property for a regulation parking space, but if he could get one approved and built at 40 feet deep and 9 feet across, the city would agree to replace the driveway it tore out "at no expense to the owner."
Hubble estimated that pouring a slab of concrete would cost at least $10,000. The couple has a long, gravel parking space along the side of their home, and they've never wanted a new one. Friends pull into it when they come over for dinner.
At one point, Voyles joked about setting up a toll booth on either side of their sidewalk. Hubble was left wondering why he heard nothing from the elected representatives he contacted and excuses from others.
"If a mistake is made, admit it, don't try to cocoon that mistake with knee-jerk excuses and irrelevant zoning codes," Hubble said in an email. "And where is the representation for having two ward representatives? Three emails, two to the council and one to the mayor's office and not one reply from anyone. I wrote (U.S. Sen. Max) Baucus 16 years ago and got a half-hour phone call in response. I wrote a British MP (Member of Parliament) five years ago and he agreed to meet me in person. Missoula City Council must think themselves above such triviality."
While the actual driveway matter appears to be settled at that location, Doug Harby, Public Works project manager, said the city hasn't heard from a couple of other property owners who also lost their driveways. He said the department isn't initiating those contacts because it doesn't have the manpower.
"Each time we meet with someone, it's a one- or two-hour thing. We have one person dealing with 200 or 300 properties a year," Harby said.
He estimates the city put in 10 or 12 curbs where there used to be driveways, although he said most of those driveways didn't go past the sidewalks. A couple of places along Beckwith near Arthur Avenue did have full driveways, though, and one person has set up a wooden board as a ramp to get over the newly poured curb.
Harby said Realtors, appraisers and the owners themselves hold some responsibility, too. Industry professionals should tell people the rules about sidewalks and driveways when they sell homes. And the owner?
"Why did he buy a house with bad sidewalks? You wouldn't buy a car with bad tires," Harby said.
He agreed the department "miscommunicated," but he said Hubble "called us every name in the book," too. And the couple didn't really need those spaces, according to Harby. He said the owners have a garage in the back, and they don't appear to take good care of their drive.
"This driveway is full of weeds. You can tell it's a principle type thing for him," Harby said of Hubble's request the city return his driveway.
Reporter Keila Szpaller can be reached at @KeilaSzpaller, 523-5262, email@example.com or on MissoulaRedTape.com.