City of Missoula working to rewrite townhome exemption policies

The Hillview Crossing project never made it through City Council and prompted the body to adopt an interim ordinance limiting certain projects. It’s now working to rewrite regulations around Townhome Exemption Developments in Missoula.

Several months into an temporary ordinance limiting Townhome Exemption Developments, members of the Missoula City Council on Wednesday got their first look at a proposal that would revise when and where such developments could occur.

The proposed ordinance is slated to go before the planning board for review in August and is earmarked for adoption by November, when the city’s moratorium on TED projects will sunset.

“We all felt that TEDs provide a good opportunity for building housing in the community,” said council member John DiBari. “We were just struggling with how we define what the characteristics are, how we review them, and how they best fit with the development that’s happening.”

TEDs were permitted by the state Legislature in 2011 as an exemption to standard subdivision review. But the definitions on what constitutes a TED were vague and local jurisdictions were left to define the tool on their own.

“It’s become quite popular in Missoula,” said city planner Ben Brewer. “The city has generally tried to be accepting and encouraging of TEDs, especially to create homeownership options.”

According to Brewer, around 60 residential TED declarations are on file with the city. If all those projects were completed, they’d provide around 500 dwelling units.

Of the 60 residential TEDs that have been filed, about 85 percent include 10 or fewer dwelling units. The remainder, Brewer said, represent projects larger than 10 units. It’s those larger projects that represent the bulk of housing provided in residential TED projects, and Missoula is facing a housing shortage.

“Our approach to TEDs has been to try and accommodate them,” Brewer said. “But as things moved on, they’ve grown larger and become harder to accommodate.”

That hit a flash point earlier this year when a team of developers presented their plans to build 24 attached townhomes resulting in 68 dwelling units in the South Hills. The project never made it through City Council and prompted the body to adopt an interim ordinance limiting certain projects.

The interim ordinance still allows TED projects but has modified the standards for projects that require a conditional use of approval. The interim ordinance lifts in November and the proposal presented on Wednesday is intended to rectify a number of issues, ranging from connectivity and location to a project’s size and review.

The ordinance would cap the size of a TED project at 10 or 20 units, depending on zoning. It would also restrict projects on steep slopes and prevent TED projects from greenfield development.

“TEDs are optional. We can choose to use them or not,” said DiBari. “We’ve found that they’re useful in many instances. We get to define how our community wants to implement that tool. There’s no guidance from state law.”

A mission statement included with the new proposal suggests TEDs are useful for developing compact and walkable neighborhoods. They’re desired near existing infrastructure and for building affordable housing in a timely manner.

However, Brewer said, the tool wasn’t intended for greenfield development where public infrastructure is missing. Nor was it designed to end-run the city’s ability to guide development in an orderly manner.

The ordinance remains a work in progress and will likely go before the City Council’s Land Use and Planning Committee for a second time in the coming weeks.

“The city has taken a flexible approach to TEDs, but arrived at a breaking point,” said Brewer. “As projects have become more complex, they’ve brought on significant challenges for the city to review adequately.”