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Fees, code reform intended to expedite review of new development in Missoula

The City of Missoula is one step closer to increasing the fees it places on reviewing new development, saying they’re needed to provide timely service and keep pace with Missoula’s growing level of development activity.

Fees charged in the review process will also widen to cover such things as design excellence review, resubmitting incomplete applications, and reviewing annexation requests.

“One of the first things I was charged with was addressing our ability to respond to development review in a timely manner,” said Eran Pehan. “We feel this will put us on the right path to promoting equitable growth and a resilient and sustainable community.”

Pehan, who serves as director of the newly aligned office of Community Planning, Development and Innovation, said the proposed fees amount to an average 15% increase across the board. Even with the increase, she said, the fees remain below what was recommended more than a decade ago.

The resulting revenue is intended to fund the staffing increases needed complete more timely reviews. That includes two additional planners, an engineer, one parks planner and one senior planner. Combined, the five new positions will cost around $358,000.

“We want to be sure the revenue generated does cover the cost of those positions,” Pehan said. “Those dollars do go into the General Fund and they would shift that subsidization rate that’s going on right now.”

The fee increases are part of a larger comprehensive plan underway at the city to handle growth. Among other things, Pehan said, they will present both short- and mid-term goals aimed at staffing, the general review process, and reforming outdated or unnecessary codes.

“We adopted a very bold and comprehensive planning document in our growth policy in 2015,” Pehan said. “But the most recent version of our regulatory code was established over a decade ago. After band-aide fixes, it’s time for comprehensive reform.”

While the fees are intended to fund an appropriate staffing level and expedite the review process, code reform could also lower costs and incentivize the construction of affordable housing. Ideas could include promoting more compact development and reduce parking requirements around certain projects.

“The delays in development review have had an impact on the new construction of homes and works against the goals we’ve outlined in our adopted housing policy,” Pehan said. “We believe we can decrease review times across the board and ensure we’re not serving as a barrier to new home construction.”

As it currently stands, the city said its current impact fees are generally distributed equally to parks, police and transportation – the services needed to support growing areas of Missoula. Only a small portion of the fees goes to engineering and planning to cover the cost of review.

That leaves the general fund to subsidize much of the review process. By increasing capacity, the city intends to reduce the review of a multi-family housing project from around 10 weeks to two weeks.

The review of other construction classes will also be compressed.

“I’m happy to support any increased capacity and give the tools that are necessary to deal with the volume and complexity of the development we’re seeing now and into the future,” said City Council member Mirtha Becerra.