Missoula rewrites the rules

Missoula County's subdivision regulations are about to get a major renovation.

The Board of County Commissioners announced Oct. 22 that Bill Collins of Collins Planning Associates, an urban planning group based in Jackson, Wyo., will head the efforts to rewrite subdivision rules, which regulate things like road construction and subdivision design. His contract is for "a sum not to exceed $100,000."

Collins now finds himself square in the middle of Missoula County's most contentious land-use conflicts, including the sticky topic of subdivision development on farmland.

"I have absolutely no doubt that interest groups will use this rewrite to push their agendas," says Commissioner Jean Curtiss. "So finding the balance will be our challenge."

One of those interest groups is the Missoula Organization of Realtors, which has long pushed to make subdivision development regulations less restrictive, especially in regard to development on agricultural lands.

"Landowners must be able to have consistent expectations of the subdivision regulations," says Austin James, MOR's public affairs director. "We think the bottom line is that the landowners need to be able to exercise their private property rights without their usage being determined by outside groups."

The Community Food and Agriculture Coalition would also like to see more consistent subdivision regulations, but their concern is the county's loss of farmlands.

"Standards for mitigating development impacts on agriculture are not really addressed in the subdivision regulations right now," says Annie Heuscher, CFAC's land-use program manager. "The county needs consistent standards in place so they have the regulatory backing to ask subdividers to design their projects in ways that provide a future for agriculture in the county."

These two organizations, along with other interested parties, will have a chance to sit face to face and discuss their differences. Collins says he plans to develop a stakeholder group in which conflicting parties can come to agreement. "We will work toward consensus," he says.

The subdivision regulation rewrite will begin in mid-November. Collins says discussion of the more controversial topics will take place after the new year.

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