Missoula County commissioners postpone final vote on new land use map

The Missoula County commissioners postponed a final vote Thursday on adopting a new urban area land use map because of new public comments and a family emergency that Commissioner Dave Strohmaier had to attend to.

“We have a huge new stack of public comment that we just received, so obviously we have not had time to take that comment into account,” Commissioner Nicole Cola Rowley said. “We have read the Planning Board comments, but obviously there are some, what sound like, areas of concern in this project and we will really want to take the comment we hear today and be able to sleep on it and take it into full consideration.”

The color-coded map and its Land Use Element include 15 land use designations, which address housing, commercial development, agriculture and other uses.

The designations will guide where future infrastructure and development will be placed, keeping in mind community values. The Missoula County population has doubled over the years to 117,000, with another 30,000 people expected to move in in the next 20 years.

However, during Thursday’s public meeting, Missoula County Community & Planning Services staff members identified a few key changes since their meeting with the Missoula Consolidated Planning Board in January.

Th0se include Denbleyker subdivision from Waldo Road and George Cates Boulevard at the Wye, Grass Valley, and the property southwest and northwest of the airport.

A few residents of Missoula County addressed a change in the land use designation of Grass Valley from rural agriculture and residential to agriculture. The Missoula Consolidated Planning Board suggested that the area have one dwelling unit per 40 acres instead of the current one dwelling unit per 20 acres.

Grass Valley resident Leslee Tschida said the change in restriction is harmful to those who live there.

“This deprives land owners of the freedom to choose how to use their property, and severely limits its value. During the past two years, hundreds of dwellings have been built within just a few acres on Mullan Road across from the Walmart store, less than seven miles from our property,” Tchida said. “This unfair restriction devalues the land and it infringes on the property rights of landowners in the area along Mullan Road in the Grass Valley section.”

Others mentioned that the space on agriculture-designated land can allow accessory dwelling units. However, the designation can restricts it.

“You need to realize, as a whole group, that housing is a big deal for older people and having somebody to be near who can live on the same land, or near them on the same land, whose family who could help them as they age, is going to be really important,” Grass Valley resident Marsha Hauck said.

Bonnie Buckingham, executive director of CFAC, supported the adoption of the land use map and Land Use Element. The current land use map, developed in the 1970s, did not have an agriculture designation.

“The Community Food & Agriculture Coalition has spent a dozen or so years working to keep the conversation on agricultural soils conservation at the forefront of planning in Missoula County. And for the first time in this long conversation, we feel that we are actually making some headway with this Land Use Mapping Element,” Buckingham said.

A few Target Range residents were concerned about compact expansion and wanted to remove the possibility for density bonuses and incentives, since they do not coincide with the Target Range Neighborhood Plan.

A member of the Target Range Board of Directors urged the commissioners to put into consideration their neighborhood plan when addressing the Land Use Map and Land Use Element for subdivision review.

“It’s glaringly obvious that this land use update proposal is not compatible with the Target Range Neighborhood Plan,” member of the Target Range Homeowners Association Ed Taylor said.

Public comment will remain open until the next public hearing on April 25, at 2 p.m. at the Sophie Moiese Room at the Missoula County Courthouse.

Reporter Mari Hall can be contacted via email at mari.hall@missoulacurrent.com.