Libby City Council meeting; proposed zoning changes for the city

By Danielle Nason

 

The Libby city council met on Monday, Dec. 3 for their regular monthly meeting at City Hall.

Following roll call and an opening invocation, City Administrator, Jim Hammons, reported that the last two winters have been harsh. This year, so far, has been mild, he said, and they have only sprayed deicer on the roads four times. Hammons also mentioned that the city is looking to do additional chip sealing in coming years.

The Fire Department then reported responding to two calls in Nov., both with mutual aid and with the ambulance.

Libby’s Chief of Police, Kessle, reported that during Nov. the police department responded to 243 calls for service. They made 32 arrests, and issued 33 citations which was a spike from previous years. In Nov. 2017, there were 179 calls for service, 13 arrests, and 9 citations. Chief Kessle said the increase was partially due to more animal complaints, traffic stops, and domestic violence calls. He then said that three out of the four police cars are all finished, and the rest of the work should be done in the coming week. Police are still having trouble with people speeding around the Balsam Street area near the elementary school, and a tentative job offer had been made for an officer to replace Darren Short who will be Sheriff. If all goes well, the applicant should get into the police academy in January and be ready to act as a patrolman by the beginning of summer. “He looks like a good fit for Libby and he looks like he will be a good fit for the Department,” said Kessle. The applicant’s name was not disclosed.

The public comment portion of the meeting opened with DC Orr mentioning the “groundwater settlement,” in which the city receives money from International Paper to manage the groundwater contamination caused by creosote. The settlement money is managed by a law firm, and the agreement is coming up for renewal next year. Mr. Orr asked to get an accounting for the money, and an update on the groundwater settlement. Mayor Teske responded by saying that the renewal will be addressed, and further information will come at a later date.

Regarding proposed zoning changes, Mayor Teske confirmed that city’s planning board was created on Dec. 5, 2015. The board’s past zoning recommendations have been made and adopted, and planning boards typically do both planning and zoning. The question was brought up at a previous meeting about whether the planning board should be addressing zoning, and the council agreed to keep concerns regarding planning and zoning tabled until they can determine where the board sits and seek legal guidance for questions related to planning and zoning. A new draft of the proposed zoning changes is being written to include recommended changes. It has not been released yet, but a copy of the initial zoning recommendations is available from the city. It remains unclear whether the zoning recommendations will go back to the planning board, or remain under review by the ordinance committee. Either way, public comment will be accepted until the council votes on the issue, and a vote is not yet scheduled. Public comments with specific concerns or questions are encouraged as they are easiest for the volunteer board to address. “We’re here to try to do good work for the city,” said councilwoman Smith. The proposed zoning recommendations, she clarified, would help establish and maintain standards and property values. They would not impose added fees or even impact existing businesses unless they were remodeled, and for remodels, only the materials section of the ordinance would apply. New construction would need to conform to the proposed design standards. According to the city’s website, the planning board is scheduled to meet on Monday, Dec. 10  at 6 p.m. at the city hall council chambers. Planning board meetings are open to the public.

Parking was also a topic of extensive discussion at the meeting. A complaint was brought by Larry King about the parking on Mineral Avenue. Without there being designated parking, some stores are forced to give up prime spots in front of their stores to parking for other businesses next door, he said.  This can be frustrating, and even force businesses to close early. Mr. King noted that this was the case for the Libby Dollar Store.

The meeting closed after the announcement of a public meeting that will be held on Monday, Dec. 17 at 6 p.m., for an annual needs assessment which will be conducted as a prerequisite to applying for community development block grant (CDBG) funding.