Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) Legislative changes and pressure to address certain issues sooner than later has prompted the city's planning department to prepare several updates to its zoning and codes.

Dubbed Our Missoula, the code-reform effort is intended to bring the city's wide array of regulations into a single document and streamline housing and development. The process is likely to take several years, though a number of changes will be made sooner.

“Many of the changes outlined in the process are legally mandated because of changes made during the legislative session,” said Eran Pehan, director of the city's planning department. “The city is very well prepared to implement these mandates. It's also an opportunity for the community to help define how the city will meet state mandates while identifying additional changes that can be made now to support the ultimate creation of housing.”

The city kicked off its long-anticipated code reform effort last year. The work will result in a range of policy changes, from subdivision review to land use. It will also align city zoning with the growth policy, something that's been an issue for years.

Changes mandated by the Legislature will also come into play. Among other things, they include subdivision review, changes to condo projects, allowing accessory dwelling units, parking reductions, an increase in the number of children at daycare, and allowing cryptocurrency.

“They're also going to be restricting use of design standards and the design review process,” said city planner Laval Means. “The legislative changes are legally mandated by the state, and we must comply with them.”

The city plans to divide its recommendations into two phases. The first phase will address legislative bills that go into effect this year. The second phase would incorporate bills effective next year.

“This phased approach enables us to get the most pressing state mandates integrated into our local rules as soon as possible,” Means said. “Some code amendments shouldn't wait until the end of the process, but should be brought forward as early deliverables. That would address urgent community needs and address state policy changes.”

Like many cities across the region, Missoula has fallen short on its housing inventory, which no longer meets current demand. The result has driven home prices and rent to record highs.

To address the issue, Gov. Greg Gianforte last year convened a housing task force to explore solutions. While Missoula had already launched its code and zoning reforms, recommendations passed by the Legislature will force updates sooner than the city had planned.

That also allows cryptocurrency and other data mining operations. Both the city and county had regulated the industry given its enormous use of energy, but that's no longer possible.

“The way state law is written right now, we don't have an option to address cryptocurrency,” said Means. “They are required by state law to be allowed in industrial areas, as a baseline.”