Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) As the City of Missoula works to rewrite its codes and growth policy, it will take a close look at current zoning and transportation and how they impact the cost of housing.

As it's lining up, some council members have blasted single-family zoning as the source of Missoula's housing woes. Details offered by the city's consultant have fed that growing sentiment.

“When we look at that era of the city that was built much more dependent on the automobile and much less accessible by walking, cycling or transit, there's a correlation to areas that are exclusively single-family dwellings,” said Peter Park. “This culmination of the mobility options and zoning creates exclusivity in the differential of housing options and affordability.”

Park, a consultant leading the city's code reform process, said Missoula's current zoning limits housing options. He suggested that 64% of the land in Missoula is zoned for single-family and single-dwelling duplexes. In contrast, 36% of the land is comprised of zoning that allows multi-dwelling units and mixed uses.

The latter is generally more affordable and the division between the two forms wasn't always the case, he said.

“When you look at the map that tracks the growth of the city, up to 1959, the original zoning – especially closer to the core – allowed more than single family,” he said. “At some point, these neighborhoods were down-zoned. Later zoning made them nonconforming with a bias toward single-family dwellings.”

Citing a disconnect between Missoula's growth policy and current zoning, and changes in urban design over more than a century, prompted the city to begin work to reform its codes late last year.

Among the goals, the city hopes to streamline development and set a “predictable and desired” path for future growth. But other issues also are at play including housing affordability, equity and transportation.

While the process only began in December and there's been little discussion among the wider public, single-family housing and the zoning that allows for it has become a target that some council members would like to dismantle.

“Now that we've gotten the presentation on the inequities of our zoning map and how it's hurting our housing supply – and how it has tones of classism and upholds systematic racism … is there a way to speed this process up?” said council member Daniel Carlino. “If we had council support to get it done by 2024 and not uphold this horrible zoning map for extra time, would (staff and the consultant) be able to handle that if that was the policy direction?”

Eran Pehan, director of the Department of Community Planning, Development and Innovation, said that would require a significant budgetary increase.

“That would require a dramatic scope of work,” she said. “This work is a collaboration between our consultants and our staff in-house, which is how we were able to work such a monumental project into a relatively conservative budget. It's ultimately a question of resources.”

Other council members suggested that good planning takes time and pointed to the success of other cities, such as Buffalo, which took five to seven years to complete its code reform.

The results have been upheld as a model of success that other communities are looking to follow.

“These things take time. We haven't had an overhaul of our zoning code for a long time, and the same was true of Buffalo,” said council member Mirtha Becerra. “Land use and intensity, and form and mobility are connected and are really important for us to consider together.”

More information on the process can be found by following this link.