It's a mellow afternoon on Harve Avenue, same as most any other Saturday since Pete and Debra Kottre moved here back in 1996. Pete slowly rocks in his recliner, a pinkish afghan draped behind him. Debra routinely gets up to check on dinner. Whatever it is, it smells good.
"I have a little basketball hoop I used to set up during the summertime and play basketball out in the street," Pete says. "I don't see that ever happening again."
Pete is about as fired up as a laid-back guy like Pete gets. Several nights earlier he'd attended his first-ever Franklin to the Fort Neighborhood Council meeting, hoping to learn more about the city's plan to convert Mary Avenue, which currently dead-ends at the railroad tracks two blocks north of his home, into an east-west connector. Usually he would have been catching a few winks before his midnight shift at Garden City Janitorial, one of Pete's two jobs.
"They're so far down the road now I don't even know if there's anything we can do," he says. "I don't know how the process goes, but it feels like I've been steamrolled already."
The Mary project, slated to go out for bid in March, would link Reserve Street to Brooks via the Southgate Mall property. Projections put the traffic increase at 4,000 new cars per day, and Pete is convinced that up to a quarter of those will cut south on Eaton to avoid Reserve, taking them right past his house near Eaton's junction with Harve. The proposal has been addressed in public meetings related to the mall expansion for at least a year. The Missoula Redevelopment Agency contracted a local engineering firm last spring to conduct neighborhood outreach. Still, Pete says, he was taken by surprise. He's not the only one.
"I would say at least 90 percent—and that's a low estimate—of the people we canvassed did not know anything about the project," says Cathy Scribner. "Or they heard vaguely that something was going to be happening."
Scribner and Pat Ortmeyer live across Harve from the Kottres with two dogs Ortmeyer rented the house 17 years ago because the area was "quiet and affordable" and eventually bought it from her landlord. Neither Scribner nor Ortmeyer had heard about the city's plans until a few months ago. They took it upon themselves to contact roughly 30 neighbors in January to build awareness and urge others to speak up to their neighborhood council. They never received a mailer. No one knocked on their door.
Ortmeyer understands the challenge facing city officials. Missoula is growing, the mall is growing, and dealing with growth is no easy task. But if residents on streets south of Mary are being asked to absorb the impacts of the new east-west corridor, she thinks they deserve to be included—even at the 11th hour.
"I feel like our feet are in cement a little bit, literally in the foundations of these homes," Ortmeyer says. "We're sitting here, kind of immobile, while this all happens to us. All we've got left is to at least have a voice in how the world around us looks."