One conflict in otherwise agreement-filled evening for commissioners

By 
Lydia Ely — Enterprise Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 7, 2021

There was much to agree on during Tuesday’s Livingston City Commission meeting. Most votes were unanimously approved, with one item being delayed and one passed by majority. Most items had minimal public and commissioner comment.

Ordinance No. 3012, a rezoning of two properties owned by Montana Rail Link from industrial to Highway Commercial passed its first reading unanimously. The properties are currently used in a commercial capacity as a strip mall and offices, and the rezoning was meant to match zoning to current usage and support Growth Policy goals. The ordinance had wide support from the Zoning Coordinator, MRL, and city commissioners. It will head to a second reading.

The commissioners took up proposed Ordinance No. 3013, which seeks to update pieces of the Livingston Municipal Code zoning sections that involve tiny homes, manufactured, and modular homes. The ordinance wasn’t considered for a definitive vote this meeting, with City Manager Michael Kardoes noting that the new language created inconsistencies in the law. He followed it up saying, “We need to, I think, holistically look at the whole thing, make sure that we’re matching all the different parts of code up intentionally, so that we have a more comprehensive look.” 

He added, “I think we also need to probably look at how the city wants to or not, or doesn’t want to incentivise the building of accessory dwelling units.” 

The commission tabled the issue until it can be updated.

Ordinance No. 3014 proposes to update fee structures for zoning applications to place the financial burden on developers rather than private citizens. 

“This is another attempt I think to align costs with the way the community has said the way they want 

costs to be aligned — basically development pays its own way,” Kardoes said at the Tuesday session. 

When Commissioner Melissa Nootz asked for further clarification on who this burden falls on, Kardoes confirmed it lands more with developers than homeowners, but rare cases would apply. The ordinance was unanimously passed and will move on to a second reading.

Ordinance No. 3015 is designed to make meetings more efficient, give commissioners more time to review items, and update language for new meeting time and bulletin location. Meetings are still every other week on the first and third Tuesdays of each month, but now the language lists them as running from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. as they have for some time. The bulletin board will be between the two entry doors in the new building at 220 E. Park St.

The ordinance gives space for the commission to require agenda items for the next meeting by the Wednesday following a meeting, noted Kardoes. This is to give the commission more time for staff and commission review. Kardoes added that this will likely result in more addendum to accommodate changes after the earlier deadline. 

Tuesday’s Livingston Enterprise preview for the commission meeting noted that it appeared the commission was eliminating public comment in future agendas. Tuesday’s agenda packet was incorrectly notated by the city, and the addition of public comment elsewhere on the agenda was missed by Enterprise reporting. The ordinance moves public comment to earlier in the meeting.

During commissioner comments, Commissioner Dorel Hoglund pointed out that the language of the proposed ordinance has not yet incorporated the gender neutral terms now being used by the commission, but Kardoes replied that the document is in the process of being updated.

The ordinance passed its first reading unanimously.

Ordinance No. 3016 was the only issue of the evening that faced any opposition. The ordinance is set to add two citizen members to the Planning Board. While the Planning Board currently has four citizen members, the only residents allowed to hold those positions must be freeholders — individuals that own land in town —appointed by the commission. The two added members could be any resident, with priority going to those that don’t own land in town. This is intended to give renters — who make up about 35 percent of residents, according to Nootz — representation on the Planning Board.

During public comment, Johnathan Hettinger expressed frustration with both the current law and proposed amendment. Hettinger said the Planning Board thought this would make the board too large to be efficient when they met on the issue previously, and that the board recommended changing the policy to remove the freeholder requirement. 

Hettinger also added that “the term freeholder is rooted in racism and sexism.” 

The term has been a topic of discourse in Livingston and on a national level, when it originated, the word referred to free men who owned land, which at the time of origin were only white men. 

During commissioner comments, Commissioner Quentin Schwarz pushed back on the expressed desires for a different proposition, saying that the commission doesn’t have the power to push back against state law, despite that he doesn’t fully support the proposed ordinance. 

Nootz, a member of the Planning Board, agreed with Hettinger, pointing out the need for equitable renter representation, but noted that changing the freeholder requirement would contradict state law. She added that passing the ordinance would insinuate that the commission endorses all parts of the law, even those they do not like.

Hoglund supported the other commissioners’ hesitation in her comment, saying, “This is like a Band-Aid to the problem, but not necessarily bad that we have a Band-Aid.” 

Schwarz deferred to state law, saying that those wishing to change the language to remove “freeholder” should lobby state legislators. All but Nootz voted to take the ordinance to a second reading. 

Next, the commission unanimously passed an action item to give the Owl Lounge permits necessary to host a PBR afterparty. 

All of the resolutions passed with flying colors to be further considered at public hearings at the July 20 meeting, including approving the 2021 to 2022 budget, increasing water and wastewater system rates at 3.3% and 3.0% respectively, specifying the assessment option for street maintenance levy of about $1.3 million, estimating the cost of lighting and electricity maintenance, and replacing street lights and other appurtenances within the city. There were no public comments on any of these, and only positive feedback from commissioners.

The last item considered was a resolution to authorize Kardoes to commit funds to match American Rescue Plan Act grants. These commitments would make the city’s application more likely to be accepted in competitive grants. Kardoes was unanimously authorized to commit up to $500,000 in matching funds for the Minimum Allocation Grant and up to $2 million for the Competitive Grant Program. 

Final commissioner comments were mostly celebratory about recent accomplishments, with some discussion about a grand opening for the new city offices, a celebration to show appreciation for city staff’s work during the pandemic, and satisfaction with the application of the Growth Policy. 

During his comment time, Commissioner Mel Friedman mentioned his daughter Laurie Bishop’s campaign to represent Montana in the U.S. House of Representatives. 

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