Ward 3 encompasses the University district, Riverfront, the Slant Streets and a portion of the Rose Park neighborhood. Incumbent Emily Bentley is stepping down to dedicate more time to her job as director of the Missoula County Fairgrounds. Jon Van Dyke, Heather Harp and Thomas Winter are running for the seat. 

1. What is one positive aspect and one negative aspect of your ward? What would you do to change the negative? How would you foster more of the positive?

Jon Van Dyke: Ward 3 is home to the Hip Strip, the (new) Old Sawmill District, UM and neighborhoods with parks. Not every street has a sidewalk (yet), but if you live in Ward 3, you can set out on foot and find pretty much anything you need within its boundaries. This is thanks to a healthy balance of commercial and residential zoning, and to neighborhoods where people are engaged. On the downside, have you heard the median price of a home in Missoula? (See No. 5) Curbing the cost of housing and extending bus service to Sundays would both help. 

Heather Harp: POSITIVE: Ward 3 is delightful in its walkability and its mixture of residential, neighborhood parks, restaurants, office, retail and services.  For the neighborhoods who desire a similar feel, I advocate that we continue investing in the Complete Streets Policy which fosters a more walkable environment inviting the other positives. NEGATIVE: The Hip Strip still remains dangerous by bike. As our city’s Growth Policy emphasizes inward density, we must support multi-modal forms of transit for vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians. To ensure the safety of all our citizens, improving traffic flow and providing dedicated bike lanes in certain areas is paramount.

Tom Winter: Ward 3 is a diverse neighborhood of young and old with thriving businesses and great restaurants. I wouldn’t live anywhere else. But the neighborhood is becoming a victim of its own success. Parking is becoming an issue along our main streets just as it always has been in the University District. I support studying the possibility of extending parking enforcement through the U District and along South Higgins. Of course, if community support is lacking we should shelve the concept. But we must be ready for even more investment and more people driving and biking and walking our streets and sidewalks. 

2. Is there a way to change the current budgeting process to better benefit citizens?

Van Dyke: City Council and the mayor’s office have tried to involve the stakeholders of our community, which really means everybody, to voice their opinions on the budget every year, but people don’t always know where to look for explanations of the budget, let alone who is involved in developing it. Beyond making a note of it on the city website, each step of the process should aggressively create forums that invite community members to explicitly discuss budget priorities. This will be no easy task, but it creates a stronger mandate for the city to move forward.

Harp: For the last 134 years our predecessors have toiled through the budget process in good times and bad delivering services at a reasonable cost while prudently investing in future infrastructure. Managing a $135 million budget today is not an easy task, but I do believe that all of us would stand to benefit if we had a better understanding of what our taxes provide us in daily services as well as long-range investments. In that regard, I advocate for more transparency in local government and using key performance indicators as a metric to evaluating how we are delivering on our vision.

Winter: I support all efforts to shine as much light as possible on our budgeting process so that citizens not only feel involved, but are aware of the city’s obligations and can participate in ways to meet them. I find the city’s budgeting process to be largely fair and equitable, and all involved to be honestly working for the good of our community. On a related note, we should be heartened to learn that we will have a 1.2 percent decrease in property taxes this year. That is directly related to our smart growth and civic stewardship paying off.

3. What are your thoughts on restriping proposed by the Fifth and Sixth streets study and the Higgins Avenue study — is there a better way to serve all modes of transportation on some of our busiest streets?

Van Dyke: We live on Sixth Street and on any given day we drive, cycle and walk on it. Every person who decides to take the bus, ride their bike or walk instead of driving is making more space for drivers. When we make it safe enough for somebody to say, “Cycling is actually a viable option for me,” that takes one more car out of the equation, creating space for drivers and other cyclists on the road. Make the results of the study widely known and everybody will see pretty quickly that it’s a cost-effective solution for all modes of transportation.

Harp: I think it is important to remember that we are a multi-modal society. As such, when I am driving there are certain streets I prefer than when I am walking or riding my bike. That being said, our bridges must accommodate all modes so we remain safe. The Fifth and Sixth streets need to undergo the proper studies and we can learn from the experts what is desirable for us, otherwise we are just gambling upon guesswork.

Winter: I get the sense that there is a growing push against multi-modal transportation on our city streets. It is objectively true that Missoula has gained more people (and their cars) in the last few years. But the answer is not to go back to the bad old days when cities were ruled by the needs of the automobile, with no thought given to walkability, biking safety and quality of life. I support the restriping of Fifth and Sixth streets.

As for the changes to Higgins, I wholeheartedly support the council’s decision to fund a larger walk/bike corridor on the bridge, so long as it does not significantly impede vehicular traffic.

4. What are your views on the city’s recent purchase of two private entities — Mountain Water Company and EKO Compost — and subsequent promises to invest heavily to upgrade them, ultimately bettering services for the community. Is this the job of the city, or is it overreaching?

Van Dyke: The price tag on MWC acquisition was substantial, and absolutely worth it. In private hands, maintenance would have happened much more discreetly, if it happened at all. Now we are the stewards of our own water system, and we can invest in it knowing the returns, monetary and otherwise, stay in our community. I would like to showcase our water system regionally to show other communities how a new municipal water system can operate a utility more efficiently, more effectively and more equitably than a corporation. The city has done well to incorporate Garden City Compost into that strategy.

Harp: Like many at first blush, I wondered at the wisdom of the city making those purchases. But the role of local government is to provide services of all types at an economy of scale. After 100 years of attempted purchases and court cases, our water utility belongs to us. And when no private sector business was willing to swoop in and buy EKO, the city did so because it dovetails with its need to reckon with the wastewater treatment plant — a win-win that most of us were unaware of unless you lived downwind of the plants.

Winter: Drinking water is an essential resource and must be managed as a public utility for the benefit of all. It was always going to be an expensive, arduous process and as a member of the public I often felt as if my elected officials were not adequately explaining the need to own this vital resource.

Missoula’s purchase of EKO will save the city the $500,000 waste processing fee previously paid by the water treatment plant and more besides, all while eliminating the rotting stench that overcame the area, opening up acres of land as public space and bringing us in line with the practices of similar cities across the country. 

5. Affordable housing is a near-constant concern in Missoula. What can (or should) the city do to help make housing more affordable?

Van Dyke: The situation has rightly been called a “housing crisis” by sitting council members. City Council has worked — and will need to continue working — to make adequate housing affordable through prioritizing development that uses space efficiently and effectively. My wife and I hope to own a home someday soon. Bringing wages up across the city and state would help, and that’s something I will fight for, but continuing to increase housing options in the city while resisting the urge to sprawl will distribute the tax burden among homeowners who are struggling to keep pace with the city.

Harp: I propose that Development Services provide developers a checklist of measurable targets (density, affordable housing units, design standards, bike racks, lower parking requirements, green space, etc.), with which developers can plan their designs knowing that the more boxes they can check, their projects are moved to the top of the list for approval. Streamlining the approval process cuts down on the uncertainty which is certainly one of the biggest detriments to making good projects pencil. By incentivizing desired outcomes via streamlining, more density will be built leading to more affordable housing which also attracts outside companies to relocate here bringing good paying jobs. 

Winter: We must further streamline the permitting process for multi- and single-family housing as well as re-zoning certain areas to encourage residential development. We must work toward imposing impact fees on new development while exempting development that provides affordable housing.

The above fees should be utilized for a municipally and community supported housing trust fund.

I believe we can better leverage TIF districts to serve affordable housing construction and support a living wage and a city government that is friendly to businesses that will locate and grow here. 

6. Missoula’s full of outdoors opportunities and killer restaurants and breweries. What’s your favorite outdoor activity in town and where’s your favorite place to get food or a drink afterwards?

Van Dyke: One of my favorite hiking paths is Crazy Canyon. Hiking up to the peak of Mount Sentinel and dropping off into the thickly shaded ravines of the backside always offers a moment of reflection and clarity. Coming back into Missoula, if my wife is with me she’s taking me to KettleHouse South to get a burger at the Wally & Buck trailer parked outside. They don’t serve fries; they don’t need to. Then she’ll make a face of disgust as I order a Big Dipper licorice cone before going to a movie at the Roxy.

Harp: During the summer you can find me cycling wearing a red skirt on city streets and trail system. I’ll head over to Caffe Dolce for coffee, or pick up a pizza from The Bridge or Biga (depends upon the mood) or even order some burnt ends from Notorious P.I.G.  From September until June, I spend way too many hours at Glacier Ice Rink playing hockey at all hours of the night. Usually come prepared with an assortment of Big Sky beers or a case of PBR that I picked up at either the Griz Groc’ or the Food Farm.

Winter: I’ll hit all the Ward 3 highlights: Float the river, takeout beneath Higgins, slog over to the Southside KettleHouse for a beer and continue the night at Caffe Dolce or Bridge delivery on my porch. No one talks about the meatball subs at that place. They’re incredible. 

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City, County Government Reporter

Government Reporter for The Missoulian.