Affordable housing and nonprofit assistance are top priorities in the Missoula community

Missoula County should prioritize increasing affordable housing for all and assisting nonprofits that provide public services, according to the results of a recent survey on community needs.

The Community and Planning Services Grants and Community Programs Division conducted an annual community needs assessment to gauge the community’s interests and funding priorities. The needs assessment was the first step in determining how to effectively use potential state and federal funds and to ensure that community development projects reflect community needs.

The following priorities were established through an online survey and virtual meeting.

  • The top two actions Missoula County should prioritize overall:
    • Increase housing that is affordable for all
    • Assist nonprofits that provide public services
  • Top two priorities for housing initiatives:
    • Support initiatives to maintain and/or increase affordable housing
    • Down payment assistance for low- and moderate-income homebuyers
  • Top two homelessness priorities:
    • Mental health and substance abuse services
    • Increased supply of permanent supportive housing
  • Top two strategies for increased economic development:
    • Increase the supply of housing that is affordable to the workforce
    • Job training and opportunities for at-risk populations (e.g. prisoner, re-entry, homeless, recovery, etc.)
  • Top two public infrastructure priorities:
    • Broadband internet coverage and access
    • Bike lanes and trails and streets and roads
  • Top two community facility needs:
    • Mental health center
    • Emergency housing facility (youth, domestic violence survivors, homeless individual/families)
  • Top two public services priorities:
    • Mental health services
    • Homelessness services including prevention
  • Top two priorities for COVID-19-related assistance:
    • Emergency rental assistance payment for low-to moderate-income households impacted by COVID-19
    • Financial assistance for small business owners

Every year, Missoula County conducts a community needs assessment to prepare for the release of federal funding opportunities, namely Home Investment Partnerships, Community Development Block Grants and Brownfield Assessment Grants. This assessment addresses the public participation requirement of the federal funding application process and is used to identify funding priorities in the county.

Missoula County competes with other Montana counties and communities for CDBG funding, which is awarded to the State of Montana from the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development. Missoula County has secured CDBG funding to partially support the construction costs of the Poverello Center and the new YWCA Family Housing Center on Third Street, soon to be known as the Meadowlark. State CDBG funding also partially funded the updated wastewater system in East Missoula and an updated wastewater system for the resident-owned Buena Vista trailer court near the Missoula International Airport. Furthermore, the county has a CDBG housing repair grant for eligible households to support the costs of repairs needed due to health or safety concerns.

An artist rendering of the new YWCA Family Housing Center on Third Street, soon to be known as the Meadowlark.

The Missoula County Brownfields Assessment Program is just getting off the ground. This grant from the Environmental Protection Agency provides funding for phase I and phase II environmental assessments on properties where its expansion, redevelopment or reuse is complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant. The grant also supports cleanup and redevelopment planning. Nearly every community in Montana has brownfield sites. Left untouched, a brownfield can pose insurmountable environmental, legal and public and private investment challenges. The grant is earmarked for properties outside of city limits; however, all potential properties would be considered.

This year’s assessment included an online survey distributed to Missoula County residents from June 3 – 17 through email, social media and ads in the Missoulian and Seeley Swan Pathfinder. The survey included questions about Missoula County’s housing, public services, public infrastructure, economic development and COVID-19 response and recovery. Staff received 207 responses. In addition to the online survey, Grants and Community Program staff conducted a virtual meeting seeking additional community feedback on June 25.  Representatives of Missoula service agencies and 13 community members attended the meeting.

Staff presented information on the assessment to the Missoula County commissioners on July 7, and it will be compiled into a final report that includes the survey results, meeting minutes and public comment. This report is a required component of federal and state grant applications, which are due in September; interested parties can contact the Grants and Community Planning staff to learn more.

To view the presentation, go to www.missoulacounty.us/grants and click on Community Needs Assessment.  

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.

Zoning 4
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.

Missoula County launches website to help homeowners with permits

Steps screencap

With the summer construction season underway, Missoula County has launched a new website to guide homeowners through the process of applying for permits they’ll likely need for new construction and other work on their home.

The website, www.missoulacounty.build, provides a step-by-step overview of the permitting process. It’s aimed at property owners who live in Missoula County but outside City of Missoula limits (city dwellers should check out the city’s permitting website instead). While the site mainly targets homeowners looking to apply for permits, it includes some helpful tips for contractors as well.

Missoula County requires permits for many types of work residents may want done on their property. Permits ensure work is done safely and complies with local, state and international building codes.

In the past, the steps required to secure these permits have not always been clear, making the process seem confusing and cumbersome. Because information on permitting was previously scattered across separate department websites, applicants often didn’t know where to start. www.missoulacounty.build is a one-stop virtual shop that simplifies information from the three departments that issue building-related permits: Public Works Building Division, Community and Planning Services, and the City-County Health Department.

Other key features of the website include:

  • Property Fast Facts, a report generated through the county’s property information system. Property owners simply need to enter their address, and the system will produce a report that includes information such as zoning, current permits, whether the property is in the city or the county, and other facts that are useful when applying for permits.
  • Lists that outline common projects that require, or don’t require, permits.
  • A breakdown of fees associated with each permit and how they’re calculated.
  • A glossary defining key terms used throughout the website that the homeowners may not be familiar with.
  • An FAQ that answers commonly asked questions homeowners have about permits.
  • Important reminders about the process throughout that will help eliminate surprises later.

Important reminder

The goal of the website is to simplify permitting information so homeowners can successfully apply on their own, or feel more informed if they need to call or visit a permitting department. If you have a home improvement project in the works, be sure to check it out. You can offer suggestions on how we can make it better by emailing permitWSP@missoulacounty.us.