Missoula-area zoning update aims to reflect community values

Zoning map

Zoning determines what kind of development can take place in an area, and values-based zoning helps create a community that’s a great place for everyone to live, work and play. That’s why Missoula County Community and Planning Services has embarked on a year-long mission to update the zoning code for the Missoula urban area outside the city limits.

Over the past several months, county staff met with residents and stakeholders − including community and neighborhood council members, developers, real estate agents, architects and designers − to gather input about the current zoning code and how it can improve. The resulting zoning audit is available now and includes six core recommendations:

1. Align zoning with community values

In some areas, residents see the value of being able to run a business, like cabinet making or an art studio, from their home, and they appreciate a “live-make” zoning option. Other communities prefer a more defined separation between residential and commercial. To gauge opinions on this and other community values ahead of the zoning update, Missoula County completed the Missoula Area Mapping Project to find out how people would like to see those values reflected in future growth and development. This results of the MAMP, which was also incorporated into the Missoula County Growth Policy, will heavily inform the zoning update.

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Commissioner Juanita Vero looks at a map of the areas in Missoula County where the zoning code will be updated.

2. Correct zoning misalignment between city and county

As more people move to the area, it’s only a matter of time before emerging neighborhoods need to connect to city infrastructure, such as water and sewer lines, to keep up with the demands of a growing population. Better alignment with the city zoning code will decrease roadblocks along the way.

3. Incentivize density, where appropriate

With home prices continuing to rise in the Missoula area, it’s more important than ever that zoning allow for increased density and more housing choices, especially where existing infrastructure can accommodate it, so all Missoulians can access homes they can afford.

4. Overhaul design standards to promote quality development

Creating a place where everyone can thrive means encouraging development of complete communities that emphasize pedestrian infrastructure, blend of housing types, agricultural uses, parks and trails, and sustainable development, all while keeping emerging trends, such as energy efficiency and 5G infrastructure, in mind.

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Updated design standards can promote quality development.

5. Update code reorganization and formatting

When a zoning code is clear and easy to read, it makes the process to follow it much smoother. The names of zoning districts in the updated code will accurately reflect intent, character and use, and definitions will be consolidated, updated or, when outdated, eliminated entirely. Graphics and tables will be used in place of text, when possible.

6. Create unified code and enhance enforcement tools

A zoning code is only as good as the enforcement of it. The zoning audit calls for establishing a streamlined enforcement process that encourages collaboration among county departments, as well as the possibility of adding a dedicated enforcement officer who can focus on the front-end portion of the process.

Want to take a deeper dive into the world of zoning? Check out the full zoning audit online.

Want to share your perspective? You can submit your comments online or by calling 406-258-4657. The process to update the zoning code is expected to last through June.

Want to better understand zoning and how it can affect you? Watch “An Introduction to Zoning” on the project website.

Q and A with new Commissioner Josh Slotnick

Josh Slotnick hit the ground running as Missoula County’s newest commissioner at the beginning of the year. He took a break from his busy schedule to answer a few questions about his experience so far and what he hopes to accomplish in the future.

Josh Slotnick headshot
Josh Slotnick

Why did you want to run for public office?

I came here 30 odd years ago, to go to college and quickly fell for Missoula. Every time I left, I ended up coming back, and I came back because of Missoula’s special combination of landscape and culture. We’re straight up not like everywhere else, we’re better. Eventually, the greater world found that out, and with our popularity has come ever more vexing challenges. We’ve seen mad growth and a concurrent rise in housing costs and development pressure, and an intensifying of use of some of our most fragile and loved places. While we’re busy wrestling with all that, our climate has become ever more volatile, and smoke, fire and floods are now nearly seasons unto themselves. In the face of these challenges we must be tremendously thoughtful in how we set the stage for the future. I want to help make sure the next wave of people who come here have the same opportunity I did to fall for this place and build a life. Given my deep commitment to Missoula, the position my last workplace afforded me, and the skills I’ve picked up from decades of community work, I feel a sense of obligation to service.  I also have one more big chapter’s worth of energy to give. I added all that up and it equaled running for office and working with the county.

What does a typical day look like for you so far?

I listen a lot. The BCC meets with staff to do the peoples’ business, and often this means talking through thorny, complicated issues and making decisions, and sometimes it’s the perfunctory workings of local government. The diversity of issues before us reflects the diversity of concerns in life here, and that makes for interesting, if not sometimes information-stuffed, days.

What do you think are the most pressing issues facing Missoula County?

Planning for future development – that means considering affordable housing, preservation of natural resources, transportation and resiliency in the face of climate change in how we make all planning decisions. The growth I mentioned earlier has not brought everyone along; we must care for those left behind and work to make sure we all have a solid chance. We must also continue to protect and enhance the cultural amenities that make this place what it is. Our economic development depends up on our character and landscape. In this way economics, job creation and our general vibrancy are knit tightly to how well we care for this place and each other.

What are some of your goals for your first year in office?

I would like to be part of the following:

  • Real, tangible and practical steps towards remedying our housing crisis.
  • Bringing zoning and subdivision regulations in line with the land use map we’re in the process of updating and making possible conservation development where we construct needed housing while protecting our best ag soils and most vulnerable landscapes.
  • Real efforts to make decentralized renewable energy production a possibility for residents of Missoula County.
  • New approaches to property taxes and revenue generation for the county.

What has surprised you most since you started your new job?

The great diversity of issues, the size and scope of the work of the county and the tremendous depth of experience and knowledge of staff.

Missoula Project Community Connect looking for volunteers

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Looking for an opportunity to help our community’s most vulnerable residents? Organizers are seeking about two dozen more volunteers for the 13th annual Project Community Connect, a one-day event this Friday, Feb. 1, that will provide essential services to those experiencing, or who are at risk of, homelessness.

The event, which connects participants to services and items including clothing, toiletries, food, haircuts, and medical and dental care, is slated for 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Zootown Church, 3623 Brooks St. More than 100 community organizations and businesses will come together to provide critical services and hospitality to those experiencing a housing crisis.

Last year, the event served nearly 300 Missoulians, made possible with the help of 134 volunteers who offered up 604 hours of their time. Organizers have no doubt the event will once again fulfill this crucial community need this year.

“We’re grateful for the support we’ve received in the past for Project Community Connect, and we’re confident the Missoula community will step up again this year,” said Sindie Kennedy, grants administrator in Missoula County Community and Planning Services. “By sharing human connections while meeting basic needs and providing core services, we can all help participants move away from their housing crises toward self-sufficiency.”

Project Community Connect (formerly known as Project Homeless Connect) is part of a national movement and historically coincides with the Department of Housing and Urban Development Point in Time Survey, a homeless census that takes place every January. The event is facilitated by members of the Missoula At-Risk Housing Coalition, including Missoula County.

Want to help? Sign up to volunteer online.