Growth and development: Missoula County backs city’s annexation policy

While efforts to adopt an annexation policy in the city of Missoula won’t likely please everyone, it can now count Missoula County as a supporter.

Commissioners this week expressed satisfaction with the city’s efforts to adopt the policy to help inform future growth and the extension of costly services.

It could also help the county define its own plans for growth, according to Andrew Hagemeier.

“The city doesn’t have (a policy), and it kind of affected how we went about doing our land use map update because we weren’t sure which way the city was going to grow,” he said. “But they’re putting one together. It’s nice, it’s simple and clean, and it states what they’re going to look at.”

The proposed city policy, set for consideration later this month, eyes a number of factors, including the need for orderly development, the efficient use of public services and the equal sharing of resources.

It also looks to promote urban infill and walkable neighborhoods. It’s intended to give local government a stronger tool when making decisions on where to place future infrastructure – itself a tool to guide development.

“They clearly considered the land use map that we put together,” Hagemeier said. “They also included in their considerations some discussion on working on service agreements with the county rather than with individuals. We think this is a good policy.”

Tom Zavitz, a senior city planner, told members of the Missoula City Council last month that a number of parties were waiting for the city to adopt its official annexation policy before moving forward with plans of their own.

That included Missoula County, which is working on updates to a number of regulations, from subdivisions to zoning.

“This was something I asked for at least a decade ago when I was on City Council,” said Commissioner Dave Strohmaier. “At last it’s coming to fruition.”

Citing equity issues, the city recently annexed 3,200 acres west of Reserve Street, including the airport, to guide future growth in the rapidly evolving urban fringe. Most of those in the area were already receiving city services and had waived their right to protest the move.

The county is also mapping areas of the valley as it works to guide growth while preserving agriculture and open space.

“I feel (the city policy) is consistent with our efforts on the mapping,” said Commissioner Josh Slotnick.