Montana Public Radio

Missoula County Seeks Feedback On Future Land Use Vision

Oct 23, 2018

Missoula County is updating its future growth map.

Why? Maybe think about it like this: you go to a restaurant, open the menu and have to choose from 64 different entrées. Not only would it be a chore to simply decide what to order, your selection probably wouldn’t even taste very good.

According to Missoula County planner, Andrew Hagemeier that’s kind of like what it feels like to use at least one portion of the county’s outdated land use map which guides county growth policy. It’s now in the process of getting a major overhaul. 

Part of the existing map offers 64 land use designations. At an open house on the overhaul Tuesday, Hagemeier says that’s way too many.

“It was really hard for the public to understand. It was impossible to see the vision in it.”

Hagemeier says that "vision" is really important.

The land use map’s draft update, for example, winnows those 64 land use designations down to 15.

Missoula County Planner Andrew Hagemeier at an open house in Missoula Tuesday, Oct. 23 discussing the county's draft land management plans.
Credit Edward O'Brien / MTPR

“This is a visionary document," Hagemeier says. "It’s not supposed to represent where we are or what we want now, it’s supposed to represent where we are and what we want in 20 years. It’s something we’re moving towards. This updated document with 15 land use designations, it’s much easier to see the vision of the community and how we want to grow.”

Missoula County’s original land use map was adopted in the 1970's. Things have changed a lot since then.

“At that time Missoula county had a population of about 58,000 people. Current estimates say Missoula County has about 117,000 people, so we’ve doubled in size since the original land use map was adopted,” Hagemeier says.

Projections show that county population growing to over 140,000 people by 2040, with most of that growth happening in the Missoula Valley.

This land use map that’s getting updated doesn’t have any regulatory bite, but serves as the foundation for any potential policy changes that do carry the force of law, like zoning regs.

Hagemeier says this current draft was developed over the past year by locals from Bonner to Frenchtown. They based their decisions on a set of values and themes.

"People really value having affordable housing," he says. "People value using the existing infrastructure we have today rather than building a whole bunch of new infrastructure. Agricultural lands, open space which includes wildlife habitat, access to recreation are values. Having multi-modal transportation; people like Mountain Line, people like to ride their bikes, people like to walk in Missoula.”

According to county planner Karen Hughes people also like a sense of identity. She points to the Target Range-area on Missoula’s more rural west side as an example.

“This map pretty well reflects many of the things they want: a more rural residential area, the potential for small agricultural activity," Hughes says. "There’s another perspective, though, to consider. There’s an outline of a transportation network there. It’s relatively level ground, with not too many constraints. Although it doesn’t have sewer and water, some people think that’s where growth should be going in the future.”

Missoula's Mount Sentinel as seen from the Target Range neighborhood.
Credit Josh Burnham / MTPR

Even though Missoula County’s draft land use map envisions the bulk of the community’s future growth occurring northwest of town along the I-90 corridor, Hughes says the overall planning process is a tricky balancing act.

“And it will be interesting as we go through the public hearing process to find out whether different areas get tweaked a little, trying to rebalance it so it works the best for this community.”

Missoulian Ryan Frey says he’s glad the county is finally reexamining its growth policy. Frey owns a construction company and is president of the Missoula Building Industry Association.

Ryan Frey is President of the Missoula Building Industry Association.
Credit Edward O'Brien / MTPR

“One of the biggest hurdles builders have is we don’t know until we’ve started what we call the subdivision review process, if neighborhoods can actually be created on a certain piece of land. By having this map, I think it will create a clear path for, ‘Ok, this is going to be reserved for agriculture, this is going to be for future development.’ It’s a road map for us all," Frey says. "I’m pretty excited, and I hope the community can get behind it, and the commissioners can.”

An interactive online version of Missoula County’s draft Land Use Map can be found here.

That draft will be available for public comment though November 16. Those comments will be used to revise the map, which will eventually be forwarded to the local planning board and county commissioners who will hold hearings sometime after the new year.