It’s Not A Controversy About A Road, It’s Much, Much More…Or Is It?

by Travis Mateer

I’m probably getting ahead of myself with this post because here I am talking about something MORE than just a road controversy before anyone even knows there’s a road controversy. So let’s back up and begin with what seems to be a fairly innocuous sounding question put forward by a public Facebook group. Here it is:

For a visual aid, the image below was provided along with the question above. The area within the dotted-line is where the Trinity Apartment Complex (TAC?) is now nearly finished being built.

Where’s the controversy? The hint that something controversial is brewing comes from a comment by “Smith Fam” which seems to come unsolicited to the conversation. Curious.

So the controversy about the road lane, according to this comment, is that it was removed as a part of the land transfer?

After giving up this lane, it appears that vehicular access will now be off Mullan, instead of Maple Street, so what’s the problem? I don’t think this is about a road, or lane, at all. Or even the land transfer.

Maybe “Smith Fam” is triggering the Streisand Effect. From the link:

The Streisand effect is a phenomenon that occurs when an attempt to hide, remove, or censor information has the unintended consequence of increasing awareness of that information, often via the Internet. It is named after American singer and actress Barbra Streisand, whose attempt to suppress the California Coastal Records Project’s photograph of her cliff-top residence in Malibu, California, taken to document California coastal erosion, inadvertently drew greater attention to the photograph in 2003.[1]

Another comment, this one from Keith Koprivica, gives historical context that’s worth considering. Here’s the commented pasted in its entirety:

In the Nov. 5, 1996 general election, 65% of Missoula County voters authorized the Missoula County Board of Commissioners to issue general obligation bonds in the amount of $17.1 million for a very specific purpose: to acquire land for designing, constructing, installing, equipping and furnishing permanent adult and juvenile detention facilities, and to pay costs associated with the sale and issuance of the bonds.

The exact ballot language stated: “Shall the Board of County Commissioners (The Board) of Missoula County, Montana be authorized to sell general obligation bonds in an amount not to exceed Seventeen Million One Hundred Thousand and NO/100 Dollars ($17,100,000) bearing interest at a rate to be determined by the Board of County Commissioners, payable semiannually, during a period of not more than 20 years, and redeemable on any interest payment date after one-half the term, for the purpose of acquiring land for designing, constructing, installing, equipping and furnishing permanent adult and juvenile detention facilities, and paying costs associated with the sale and issuance of the bonds?”

All three current Missoula County commissioners acknowledged reading this ballot language, yet Commissioners Dave Strohmaier, Josh Slotnick and Juanita Vero unanimously approved a resolution to donate a portion of the land acquired with that bond (4 acres) for the development of a low income and supportive housing project. 

With this action, the commissioners ignored the intent of Missoula County voters who overwhelmingly approved the land purchase for a different reason than what it is now being used for. Intent is not just a buzzword. Missoula County taxpayers bought this land for a specific public use. The commissioners should not have just given it away for a different use.

Ironically, just two days before approving the resolution for this donation, the commissioners approved an increase of 8% in property taxes for Missoula County for fiscal year 2020. 

When the commissioners determined that a portion of the land purchased by taxpayers is no longer needed for the purpose it was intended, that land should be sold, not donated. At the time of the donation, real estate professionals estimated the value of the 4 acres of land to be $2.5 million. The income from the sale of that land could have substantially reduced or even eliminated an increase in Missoula County property taxes in fiscal year 2020.

If this develops into an actual controversy, one of the questions that might help illuminate what’s going on is this: why now?

I’ll be curious to continue watching this develop. Thanks for reading!

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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2 Responses to It’s Not A Controversy About A Road, It’s Much, Much More…Or Is It?

  1. John Kevin Hunt says:

    The first thing is to fact check those comments. I find the first one very difficult to beilieve. The second one sounds more plausible but is it complete and accurate? The Sheriff is an independently elected official and there is little, if anything, that the County Commissioners can order the Sheriff to do. Isn’t this caught up in the “pallet camp” official ghetto being built on that land adjacent to the detention center? That was, as you’ll recall, the subject of a public hearing af the 9/12 City Council meeting, a hearing the City was required to conduct even thiough the City has no plenary jurisdiction over the project.

    That aerial photo looks like my mental memory image of the one shown at the 9/12 publuc hearing. The area within the broken lines was, as I recall, where the pallet camp official ghetto was going to be constructed. There was going to be pedestrian access on two sides and vehicular on another. Perhaps review of the video of the 9/12 Council meeting agenda item consisting of the public hearing mught shed some light.

    It seems to be relatively common practice for Msla. city and county governments to spend millions acquiring land, then selling it at massive losses to the development consortiums owning and building housing projects, if the developers make vague promises to reserve sime miniscule numbers of dwelling units for “affordable” housing that typically, as it happens, is not actually affordable for most Missoula renters. Here, the four acres were purportedly donated outright to the private, investor-owned development consortium constructing the Trinity housing project. I recall a reference to Trinity having been made by an MRA persin durimg her presentation at beginning of the 9/12 public hearing. Maybe the minutes of the 9/12 council meeting (including the public hearing) are available by now via the city website; as Monday, 9/19 they were not yet completed (the Council uses transcripts of its regular Monday 6:00 pm meetings as the minutes thereof).

    Typically these public transfers are made via an intermediary communuty pand trust, which attaches restrictive covenants to the land deed in orfer to enforce some of the developers.

  2. John Kevin Hunt says:

    “…land trust, which attaches restrictive covenants to the land deed in order to enforce some of the developers’ promises.”

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