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Missoula Annexation

DeSmet Public School Principal Matt Driessen stands on school property with two existing homes and the school behind him in the fall of 2018. Driessen is concerned that zoning of undeveloped areas around the school included in Missoula's annexation will turn DeSmet into an island surrounded by industrial use, affect the health and safety of students, and prevent development of affordable housing.

The principal of DeSmet School west of Missoula is furious over plans for a new brewery and cherry orchard nearby, expressing concerns about safety and less space for houses. However, some planning board members, a neighbor and the developer say those concerns are overblown.

"I wanna spit tacks I’m so angry at this," said Matt Driessen, principal of DeSmet, at a public meeting last week. "We need to stop and think about what we’re doing. We’re creating unsafe travel for students. We’re increasing the amount of alcohol served in my school district.”

Derek Hockenbrough is in the process of applying for permits to build Otherworld Brewery & Blendery at 6900 Goodan Lane, which is about 2,000 feet away and on the other side of Interstate 90 from DeSmet School.

The setup would not be unusual in Missoula. The school is located in a light industrial area near the airport, already about 7,000 feet from Big Sky Brewery, similar to the proximity of Draught Works to Lowell Elementary School.

At the same meeting, Chase Callen said breweries in Missoula haven’t caused problems, and he noted the familiar, neighborhood atmosphere at Draught Works.

“You’re constantly seeing children there, (and) it’s a family environment," said Callen, a friend of Hockenbrough. "People are enjoying themselves. Breweries aren’t for people to go out and get drunk and wasted. It’s a community environment.”

At the meeting of the Missoula Consolidated Planning Board, board members approved a special zoning district to allow the brewery, but not without fierce opposition from Driessen, conflicting comments from the neighborhood, and questions from board members.

The most vocal critic, Driessen was unequivocal in his opposition. He made it clear he considers the location "horrible, God-awful" because it would be unsafe for school children and reduce the residential capacity in his district. 

"I’m sorry but you guys are wrong in this. I’m sure that came across pretty hard, but I’m pretty angry," he said. "It doesn’t belong there, and it never should have been approved.”

Driessen told the board he thinks the brewery would be “abusive” to children at his grades K-8 school. He believes it would add drivers that have been drinking to nearby roads.

He said if it were built, that would mean there is one alcohol-serving establishment for every 300 people in the DeSmet independent school district.

“That’s a lot of density for an area that has a rural feel,” he said. “Less than 10% of my school district is zoned residential, and you’re going to be taking more of that away."

“Why can’t it go somewhere else?” 

But Hockenbrough presented a much different vision of the establishment. He told the board he wants the brewery to be a place that builds community, promotes agriculture as the first farmhouse brewery in the state, and “spreads the art of storytelling.”

“We plan on making Otherworld a place to form a thriving community,” he said. “Unlike most bars and restaurants, breweries truly have an ability to bring people together from all walks of life. I’ve worked at a number of breweries over the years, and it always astounds me the communities that form. People that might never have come out of their shells.”

He said he believes it will be a “strong hub” in the area for people to meet, and he’s been in talks with local food trucks to serve food.

The business owner said he’d like to work with students at DeSmet to teach them about agriculture, while Driessen could be seen shaking his head “no” in the background.

Hockenbrough said he looked for five years for the right parcel of land that would allow him to also have a cherry orchard to supply ingredients for beers, and this was the only spot that was feasible. The lot was unzoned, and he worked with Missoula County planners to create a special zoning district that would allow a “drinking and eating establishment” in order to connect to the city of Missoula's sewer and water. A lot has to be zoned to connect to city of Missoula utilities.

“We want to be a great nexus for community, agriculture and culture,” Hockenbrough said.

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Montana law dictates that breweries stop serving by 8 p.m. and can't serve customers more than 48 ounces per day.

Hatton Littman, a spokesperson for Missoula County Public Schools, said she isn’t aware of any complaints from any schools in the MCPS district about breweries. The DeSmet independent district is completely separate from MCPS. But in the MCPS district, several breweries have been located within blocks of schools for many years.

“But we are in such an urban setting,” she said. “For those schools (in the city), I think it’s a different situation.”

Dan Zumpfe, a homeowner right next to the property and the vice president of the West Point subdivision homeowners association, said some neighbors support the project, others are “in strong opposition” and a lot are “more or less ambivalent.”

He said some neighbors are concerned about odors, noise or the lot falling into blight if the business fails. He also said that because the new zoning district allows eight dwelling units on the property, it could open the door to new high-rise apartments.

“That’s something people are concerned about,” he said. Zumpfe’s property faces south directly at the brewery lot.

Driessen said the school is working on developing more residential homes right around the school.

“My family owns one of the most successful breweries in North America,” he said. “My sister worked with Joe Biden, she is an extraordinary brewmeister. It doesn’t belong next to a school. I’m trying to preserve what’s left of our school district. Enough of the beating up of our district. I’m tired of it.”

Jamie Erbacher, a county planner, said at least one neighbor sent in a letter of support for the brewery. That homeowner said in the letter that the brewery would be a better alternative to a vacant lot, might spur more development in the area, make a convenient spot for locals to meet rather than having to drive to Missoula and might raise property values.

In the end, the board voted unanimously, with board member Jason Rice abstaining, to create the special district. Rice wanted more specific language in the zoning district that would stipulate that if the brewery doesn’t get built or fails, another business that could serve alcohol until 2 a.m. wouldn’t be allowed. He gave the example of a Hooters restaurant moving in.

“What if it falls through and Hooters scoops it up?” he asked.

The national chain is known for its scantily-clad waitresses, and the Hooters in Missoula closed several years ago.

“We’re locking in something forever,” Rice said. “I’m all for business, but I don’t like the way this one’s going down, so I’m going to abstain.”

Board member Helen Pent Jenkins noted that there were contradictory statements from the school principal and residents.

“(The principal) wants an expanded tax base, but none of the neighbors want density,” she said. She added that she would “like the neighbors to come together” to talk about these issues and come to a consensus.

Board member Neva Hassanein said there are examples all over Missoula where breweries are located in residential neighborhoods and near schools, and she hasn’t heard of any problems.

“I’m sympathetic to the concerns of DeSmet,” she said. “But I don’t necessarily think breweries are a scary, awful thing. We all live among them here in Missoula. They’re here in abundance and they could be, in fact, a way to enliven and enrich this community.”

She said she wishes there wasn’t a conflict.

“Breweries, when there’s food, do attract whole families,” she said. “Breweries and libraries make for vibrant towns. I’m not sure I buy the argument ‘we don’t want a brewery near where our kids are.’ We have breweries all over this town, so I’m a little confused why we would have different feelings (here).”

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