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Missoula City Council chambers

A  townhome development in the Orchard Homes area has been pushed back even further, after a technicality forced the council to re-notify neighbors and rehear the proposal next year.

During a two-hour meeting Wednesday afternoon, it eventually became clear that city staff failed to notify a member of the neighborhood council leadership team, a requirement to approve the development.

“What I typically do is go to the neighborhood leadership list and select a name,” City Planner Drew Larson said. “There was no letter sent.”

The committee agreed to follow their rules exactly, despite the fact they were minutes away from approval. Now, another public hearing is required at least 15 days after notifying the neighborhood and the neighborhood council member.

City Attorney Jim Nugent pointed out that Jan. 8 is the earliest that hearing could be held. Six new City Council members will be sworn in before then.

“I suggest we do the whole thing over again, to bring the new council people up to speed,” Ward 4 representative Jon Wilkins said. Wilkins was the only council member vocally opposed to the townhome development.

The Land Use & Planning Committee had already approved annexing and rezoning the land, about 10 acres in the Orchard Homes neighborhood. A little over 6 acres will be city open space, with an extension of the Milwaukee Trail, while 31 townhomes are proposed for the remaining four acres.

Neighbors showed up in force to oppose the development during the public hearing last week, saying they felt the plan didn’t fit the character of the surrounding blocks, most of which contain single-family homes on larger lot sizes.

Several showed up again Wednesday to speak against the development.

Brenda Wilkins, who owns a home one block away from the proposed townhomes, is also a real estate developer in Kalispell. She said she could appreciate both sides of the argument, but felt the overriding issue was the fit with the neighborhood.

A block of two-story townhomes would certainly decrease her property value, Wilkins said, especially if they looked like the developer’s renderings.

“I think this could be an absolutely beautiful townhome community, but I don’t think it is,” she said.

Ward 6 representative Marilyn Marler said the neighborhood directly to the east, across Grove Street, is made up of multifamily housing, and felt the 31 townhomes wouldn’t change any sort of nebulous idea of "neighborhood character."

Ward 3 representative Gwen Jones agreed.

“I think it’s relative … to put in a 20- to 40-unit multiplex apartment building would not be compatible,” she said. “It’s on a spectrum.”

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arts reporter for the Missoulian.