Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) Citing a large volume of development applications and a backlog in review, the planning department is asking the City Council to approve the extension of an interim ordinance for another year.

The City Council last November approved the “interim urgency ordinance” regarding zoning for six months. It essentially shifted projects that were once conditioned in certain zoning districts to permitted.

“These changes were proposed to help provide a more effective delivery of city services by freeing up staff time to review and approve housing,” said city planner Jen Gress. “It was meant to provide an interim solution while the city studies and contemplates broader amendments to improve the review process through our code reform project.”

The city this year kicked off it's code reform process, which looks to streamline development by aligning zoning with the Our Missoula growth policy. The effort will also condense a wide number of codes and regulations into a single manual, making the process more comprehensive and predictable for both developers and the public.

But code reform could take several years to fully complete and implement, and building permits are piling up in the planning department.

In the first four months of this year, Gress said the planning department has received 27 subdivision requests and 32 non-subdivision projects.

“The City of Missoula continues to face historic levels of development review, causing backlogs and delays that are directly and indirectly impacting our ability to move key priorities, like residential projects, forward,” said Gress. “We continue to have a large backlog of projects, and our season is just beginning.”

City zoning has three key designations including permitted by right, prohibited or conditional. The extension sought by the planning department would benefit a number of project types by making them permitted in all zoning districts including large commercial, group living and artisan manufacturing, according to Gress.

“This (request) is a procedural process to extend the existing interim conditional-use ordinance for one year prior to its expiration on May 28,” she said.

The interim ordinance must be approved by a two-thirds majority of City Council. It will be up for consideration on Monday, May 15.

But some are urging caution in extending the ordinance.

“The current rules are in effect for a reason,” read one comment. “Everyone seems to be in a frenzy to react to the lack of housing in Missoula. It's a long-term problem that isn't going to be solved by fast-tracking proposals.”