The Missoula City Council will continue its discussion on whether to allow accessory dwelling units, sometimes known as “mother-in-law apartments,” in single-family neighborhoods.

But that decision was made only after a heated council discussion and a chorus of public comment that called for the council to table the proposal for good.

“Let’s say what it is, stack them and pack them,” resident Linda Frey said during public comment on the proposal Monday night. “Why is it wrong? The strength in Missoula resides in its neighborhoods. What you’re doing is changing the rules once they’ve been in there.”

Former Councilwoman Lyn Hellegaard said the proposal would overcrowd and “slummify” affected neighborhoods.

The council voted 8-2 to send councilman Alex Taft’s proposal to revise the city accessory dwelling unit provisions back to the Plat, Annexation and Zoning Committee for further consideration.

Taft’s proposal would change Missoula municipal code to allow the units in single-family neighborhoods, limiting extra houses to 800 square feet and requiring one extra parking space on the property.

Taft believes the change he proposed would help increase affordable housing. But the council was heavily divided in both committee and council discussions about how exactly to proceed.

Councilman Jon Wilkins contended that the proposal would require redrawing city zoning maps, and that’s a process that calls for citywide notification and rezoning hearings.

“This is all I’m asking, we notify people and we post it. Then, we’ll set a public hearing. That’s transparency. Right now people have no clue what ‘ADU’ means. What’s going on here? Are we trying to run something through the back door?” Wilkins said.

Councilman Jason Wiener agreed with Wilkins that the proposal needed to be sent back to committee, but took offense to Wilkins’ implication that those in favor of the proposal weren’t being transparent.

“Your lack of comprehension is not my lack of transparency,” Wiener said.

When Wilkins spoke again he noted that words wouldn’t hurt him.

“You really need to think about the neighborhoods – it’s going to affect a heck of a lot of people and I’m not sure what the rush is,” Wilkins said.

Former Councilman Jerry Ballas threatened a lawsuit if the proposal was passed.

“Vote on this tonight and kill it, because this is a zoning change,” Ballas said. “You can’t do it without proper notification.”

Councilwoman Caitlin Copple said she supported returning the proposal to committee so more discussion could take place. She encouraged residents to make specific comments as to why they are for or against the allowance of accessory dwelling units.

“We’ve got to figure out how we’re going to grow the community,” Copple said.

No specific date for further discussion was given, but the Plat, Annexation and Zoning Committee meets every other Wednesday in city council chambers.

***

In other business, the council approved a roughly $1.9 million city budget increase for fiscal year 2012, which was necessary because of adjustments, such as new contract and grant approvals, made throughout the year.

The council also unanimously approved an ordinance to modify the Missoula Urban Renewal Plan so it will include the Garden District Homes subdivision between Russell and Catlin streets. That proposed development would include 196 apartments and several commercial buildings. The modification will allow the project to be eligible for urban renewal funds.

“I’m thrilled this will bring more apartments, and maybe convince some people to leave our single-family neighborhoods alone,” Wilkins said before that vote.

Reporter Jenna Cederberg can be reached at 523-5241 or at jenna.cederberg@missoulian.com.

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