Historic renovation

On July 16, the Missoula City Council tweaked development regulations to make it easier for people with historic homes to rehabilitate them.

It wasn't until 1932 that Missoula began to create rules governing, for instance, the minimum lot size required to erect a home in a certain neighborhood and how far buildings must be set back from adjacent property lines. That means many of the Garden City's older homes don't comply with modern zoning regulations.

During the lawmaking body's Monday night meeting, Councilman Bob Jaffe explained that there's been uncertainty for years among local property owners about the extent to which they could make changes to older "nonconforming" structures. "It used to be if you had a nonconforming building and it burned down, we'd let you rebuild it. But if you were going to do a remodel and you actually tore it down, then you could not," Jaffe said. "So, then it got into all of this craziness of people doing remodels but needing to know how much of the last wall has to still be there for this thing to still count as not being intentionally destroyed. So we took that out to make it where, if you want to remodel, you can remodel."

The amendments change height and width limitations for building additions on nonconforming structures. Prior to the change, owners of properties located inside a street setback, meaning closer to the street than current zoning allows, could not build an addition inside the setback. Now they can. Conversely, the change now calls for phasing in the height of an addition that lies inside a setback adjacent to another property. Prior to the change, additions inside setbacks weren't phased in and were capped at the height limit for that individual neighborhood, typically about 35 feet.

Councilman Jon Wilkins wasn't sold on the changes. He worried that they could adversely affect neighborhoods with homes on small lots. "I'd like to have more discussion in committee about it," he said.

Jaffe said the amendments are part of an effort to encourage locals to preserve the historic character of Missoula's neighborhoods while supporting the reuse of existing resources, namely historic homes.

"The overall theme here is that, in the past, zoning code used to encourage getting rid of nonconforming uses," he said. "That's one of the shifts that has happened."

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