Missoula County works to update zoning for 1st time since 1976

Lee Bridges offers her suggestions for future zoning during an open house at the Missoula County Courthouse on Tuesday. (Mari Hall/Missoula Current)

Missoula County is seeking public input as it begins a comprehensive zoning and regulation update that prepares for future growth and development, its first significant update since 1976.

Missoula County Community & Planning Services, or CAPS, held an open house Tuesday to collect recommendations from the public on how future zoning and development should occur outside the Missoula city limits.

The urban land use element, which will be officially adopted this Thursday, displays the values of certain neighborhoods through specific land use designations. It will serve as a guide for the ongoing zoning project, which is part of the larger Missoula Area Mapping Project.

“Much of the zoning for the county was adopted in 1976, and there have been additions and tweaks here and there, but for the most part it’s reflective of a 1976 mindset,” said Jennie Dixon, a county planning officer.

Missoula County’s zoning regulations were amended in 2017 to better comply with state law and recent county policy changes. Now, officials want to better align the 2016 Missoula County Growth Policy with existing regulations and zoning and provide improvements.

About 20 different zoning designations are currently used, with about 20 others that don’t fall into one single category.

“The intent is to create an audit that looks holistically at all kinds of land use issues, and (CAPS has) been meeting with stakeholders and city and county staff people to find out the answers to those questions,” Dixon said. “Where could the zoning improve?”

By the end of the summer, that audit report should be ready for phase three, which will draft amendments to county regulations for adoption early next year.

“Zoning sets the rules for how land develops, or doesn’t,” she said. “It can establish design criteria, how development can happen, how to make it compatible or integrate with other uses and respect the other uses around them.”

New zoning may be created to reflect a live/make land use designation, for example.

Lee Bridges, chair of the East Missoula Community Council, is excited about the new live/make designation since it allows residents to maintain shops or small businesses on their property.

Bridges has lived in East Missoula for 30 years in the unzoned section. About one-third of East Missoula is zoned, and the remaining area is home to many entrepreneurs and those who have home-based businesses.

While East Missoula may be annexed into the city limits one day, having zoning that protects those values is important, she said.

“With this live/make designation that has been created for us, it totally resolves all of our problems and has essentially taken the fight out of our fight,” Bridges said. “It’ll be real easy to walk through the zoning from here forward.”

Another open house is scheduled for Wednesday, June 5, at 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Sophie Moiese Room of the Courthouse Annex at 200. W. Broadway. Residents can also submit comments online here.

Contact reporter Mari Hall via email at mari.hall@missoulacurrent.com.