051912 alley apartments kw.jpg

Robert Kendall, a painter with SPS Painting, finishes a doorway in May 2012 on a small alley home off South Fifth Street. The Missoula City Council, which prohibited accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, in some neighborhoods three years ago, is considering an amendment to allow ADUs in all districts.

KURT WILSON/Missoulian

The backyard cottage idea has its very own website in Missoula – and its very own petition against it, too.

The Missoula City Council is talking about accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, such as little backyard cottages and basement apartments. Councilors are considering whether to allow them in single-family neighborhoods, and the controversial issue now has a dedicated website complete with a questionnaire.

“This is new ground,” Councilman Bob Jaffe said Tuesday.

It’s online at adumissoula.net/info. He said the Office of Planning and Grants took the initiative after the council discussed different ways to notify people of proposed zoning changes.

“All right, we need to inform and notify the public. What are our tools at our disposal to do that?” Jaffe said.

The WordPress site includes photos, regulation samples from other cities, frequently asked questions, links to news stories, and information about an upcoming open house as well as a questionnaire.

“I don’t think the city has done an online interactive piece with an issue like this before, so it’s kind of a new thing,” said Tom Zavitz, a planner in the Office of Planning and Grants. “We’re just hoping we can get more input than with what we’ve typically done. And I think we’re seeing a lot of comments come with the survey, which is nice.”

That’s because the comments are constructive, so the effort itself appears to be productive, he said. Zavitz also said the questionnaire isn’t a scientific poll or a vote, but an attempt to shed light on community sentiments.

Councilman Jon Wilkins, who adamantly opposes granny suites in single-family neighborhoods, said he believes the survey is “a little bit flawed,” but he likes the website itself. Wilkins also plans to attend the meeting next week.

“I’ll just be talking with folks, and I have a petition against (ADUs). I’ll be getting people to sign our petition against it,” said Wilkins, who already has collected a couple of hundred himself.

The open house is 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 24, at the Holiday Inn Downtown, 200 N. Pattee St. The online message invites the public to “learn about ADUs, discuss ADUs, and give your feedback.”

As of last week, roughly 100 people had filled out the online survey, Jaffe said. He likes the approach of fleshing out one issue on its own site, and he said he wants to see more initiatives treated the same way.

“Trying to figure out how Ginny’s office can start producing this kind of thing would be nice,” Jaffe said of city communications director Ginny Merriam.

Merriam said she, too, likes the idea of using the Internet to reach the community, and in particular she appreciates being able to gather opinions online. People are busy, and asking people to attend public meetings to share their views is probably the least effective way to engage them, she said.

The city website is under revision, and Merriam said it also will include new ways to interact with the public online. At the same time, she’d like people to show up in person at next week’s event.

“So I think it’s really good, and I love the idea of an open house, too,” Merriam said.

Reporter Keila Szpaller can be reached at @KeilaSzpaller, 523-5262, keila.szpaller@missoulian.com or on MissoulaRedTape.com.

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