The Missoula County commissioners extended public comment on a new urban area land use map for another week Thursday because of several changes to land use designations prompted by earlier public input, including compromise areas that protect both development rights and agricultural uses.
Last week’s public meeting encouraged Missoula County Community & Planning Services staff members to make designation changes to the Wye, West Meadows and Denbleyker areas, as well as to locations north of the airport and Buckhouse Bridge and Blue Mountain Road.
Grass Valley became a central focus during the last two meetings, with many residents concerned about conserving agricultural land and being able to develop in the area.
“I would agree I’d like some more time because there are actually quite a bit of changes. To me, they’re not something I would want to send back to the Planning Board, but they are something that I would want to think about for a little while,” Commissioner Nicole Cola Rowley said Thursday.
The staff also changed the language on development design within the map and its Land Use Element, which includes 15 land use designations that address housing, commercial development, agriculture and other uses.
Those changes identified that conservation design for land uses like agriculture and residential should set aside a major portion of a site for resource and environmental preservation, clustering development on the remaining portion.
Density bonuses may also be used to help find middle ground between agriculture and development. When a larger area of land is permanently protected, a landowner could increase their entitlement density, or how many units can be on a certain number of acres of land.
“The key is that the public is getting something in return, so there’s some sort of permanent protection,” county planner and mapping project manager Andrew Hagemeier said.
Having some areas allow for one unit per 40 acres and others allow one per five acres is the goal, while also leaving a passable Clark Fork River corridor for wildlife to permeate through.
The staff used current land use designations and zoning to help create a map of compromise designations between their initial designations and those of the planning board for Grass Valley.
“We have to remember that this area has zoning in place, so we have some predictability how things are going to play out on this landscape over the next year or year and a half while we’re moving forward to update our zoning regulations,” Hagemeier said.
Community & Planning Services’ next steps will be to create a new zoning map of the county, which will regulate development. The land use map is only a guide.
“This map is an expression of values. Values that were articulated through a multi-year public process, which was described really well narratively in the opening part of this document,” Commissioner Josh Slotnick said. “Those values will be expressed in zoning, zoning that is not yet determined and will also be a public process.”
Bonnie Buckingham, executive director of the Community Food & Agriculture Coalition, said that preserving agricultural land is a priority, but compromise is important.
“This is the first time I’ve seen the third alternative, or the compromise, and I think it does a lot of good,” she said. “I think it is working toward getting the most that we can and maybe even getting more conservation in the future with that compromise.”
The commissioners will hold another public meeting to hear more about the proposed changes on May 2 at 2 p.m. in the Sophie Moiese Room at the Missoula County Courthouse.
Reporter Mari Hall can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.