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Open House Discusses Zoning For Missoula Homeless Shelters

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MISSOULA -

Missoula city officials are opening the discussion on a zoning ordinance for soup kitchens and homeless shelters to the community. An open house was held on Tuesday to inform the public about a proposed ordinance on zoning.

Missoula City Council Chambers was filled with community members Tuesday, as city officials presented the first draft of an ordinance which bans shelters and kitchens from residential areas, and establishes them as conditional use, meaning a special permit would be needed and approved upon to build.

"We know there have been past questions and concerns, so reaching out to public so they can come in and take a look at what past language there's been," said Laval Means with the City of Missoula's Development Services.

The topic has been controversial, because the locations of soup kitchens and homeless shelters was not regulated until a temporary, six month zoning ordinance was put into place in September.

"The benefit of that is now we will have something more specific, and provide more guidelines and guidance," Means said.

With the permanent ordinance, the city also proposes several use and building-specific standards addressing related issues, like neighborhood relations, security and parking.

"The regulations sound wonderful," said Westside neighborhood resident Carolyn Hart.

Even with the potential new regulations, community members showed some concerns.

"The regulations are written to protect people who live in residentially zoned neighborhoods, but ours is a residential neighborhood zoned commercially, so we get no protection under the law," Hart said.

As far as homeless shelters and soup kitchens go, so far only the Union Gospel Mission's plans to relocate have been affected by the new regulations. There's no word on the Union Gospel Mission's future, because no members were at the meeting, but city officials said members have not applied for the permit needed to relocate.

The city hopes to have a permanent zoning ordinance in place by the time the temporary one ends in March.

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