Missoula County zoning update looks for details around buffers, incentives, flexibility
Those anticipating Missoula County's new zoning codes will have to wait a little longer as county planners work through a number of lingering issues, ranging from incentives for mixed-use development to parking requirements and their impacts on the cost of housing.
Given that a portion of Missoula's growth will take place outside city limits, the final draft – expected later this year – could be key to how future development plays out, and how the metro area addresses its current and future housing needs.
“We had planned to be bringing the code to the Planning Board in October, but we're not ready to do that,” said county planner Andrew Hagemeier. “We want to continue to work through these issues and make revisions based on comments and present a new draft to the public later this year.”
Updating the zoning code in the Missoula metropolitan area is a heavy lift, one the county has been eyeing now for years. The results will determine what kind of development is permitted and where.
Throughout the process, Hagemeier said the county has fielded a number of comments and concerns, including neighborhood character and allowing greater flexibility in housing design.
“There were also some really good ideas about trying to incentivize mixed-use buildings,” Hagemeier said. “In East Missoula, they're worried that it will turn into nothing but apartments. They suggested we look into ways to incentivize mixed-use buildings.”
The future zoning code will include a number of categories such as community values, adding incentives for density and overhauling design standards.
Hagemeier said it will also correct areas of the code that don’t align with city zoning. The county's process has found support for accessory dwelling units in every zoning district, and support for clustering and density.
But concerns around other issues still linger, including buffers around riparian areas and the wildland urban interface. Offing bonuses for energy efficiency have also come up.
“Right now, we don't have good incentives for people to include energy efficiency in building,” Hagemeier said. “It's an important step to address climate change, and we want to include those.”
Both the city and county have come to realize that out-sized parking requirements add to the cost of housing – an issue facing cities across the region. While parking requirements will remain a key piece of future zoning codes, they may be reduced in hopes of cutting costs.
“There's a ton of research out there that shows how much mandated parking requirements add to the cost of housing. In some communities, it's found to be very expensive,” Hagemeier said. “We know there's a direct link between the cost of housing and parking mandates. We're not proposing to eliminate housing parking requirements, but we are proposing to reduce them, and we want to establish better reasoning for that.”