New land use map will guide Missoula County’s growth for decades

Lifelong Grass Valley resident Jim Cusker considers the draft land use map during an open house on Tuesday. (Mari Hall/Missoula Current)

Jim Cusker was thrilled to see the large swaths of green on the draft of Missoula County’s urban area land use map.

The color, which designates an area as agricultural land, surrounds clusters of neighborhoods and residential areas.

“I’m very pleased with that because there’s been too much development take place here in the ag lands,” Cusker said.

He lives in Grass Valley, raising cattle on land his father purchased in 1937. The Grass Valley French Ditch runs alongside the property, having provided irrigation for farms since the early 1900s.

At an open house Tuesday, residents were able to offer their input about the future development of Missoula County.

The urban area land use map is almost finished, with the Missoula Area Mapping Project set to seek approval in early 2019.

Led by Missoula County Community & Planning Services, the project seeks to create a land use map that illustrates the values and needs of urban communities and neighborhoods across Missoula County.

The map covers land from Bonner west to the former Smurfit-Stone Container mill site in Frenchtown, and from the Upper Rattlesnake Valley to Miller Creek.

Since March, county planners have gathered suggestions and comments from residents to reflect their values in a land use map that will guide planning for growth in the coming decades.

The last map was created in the 1970s.

About 15 land use designations were used for the map, including agriculture, industrial centers, residential areas and open spaces.

Agriculture, open space, multi-modal transportation, water quality, housing and preserving community identity were a few of the core values expressed by residents.

Development of the map is an element of the 2016 Missoula County Growth Policy, which will be used as a framework for future planning efforts and regulations.

Andrew Hagemeier, mapping project manager with Missoula County Community & Planning Services, unveiled the draft map at a Tuesday open house. (Mari Hall/Missoula Current)

“We’ve tried to make the land use map reflect what our values are, so you see a lot of areas that have agriculture designations. That’s something new. We’ve never had an agriculture designation in our land use map before,” county planner and mapping project manager Andrew Hagemeier said.

The new draft of the map is largely different from the previous one, Hagemeier said, with the county sporting 64 different land use designations and colors.

“With 64 land use designations, they were very hyper-specific. So they didn’t allow the community to evolve. Really, a city is an ecosystem – a community is an ecosystem – and it needs to change over time; needs to respond to changing conditions, and it really didn’t allow that to occur.” he said.

As part of this round of open houses, the group described how the map will be implemented.

Updating the county’s zoning regulations, guiding infrastructure like water and sewer development, and coordinating with the city are strategies listed to assist county officials in implementing the map.

Ryan Frey, who works for Saddle Mountain Construction and is president of the Missoula Building Industry Association, said that he’s pleased to see land use designations for housing, a major value put forth by residents and the project.

Earlier this year, Missoula County submitted an applicationfor a $15 million BUILD grant that will help construct a transportation grid west of Reserve Street. Connecting this area with the airport will be nearly 3,000 units of housing over the next 20 years.

By the year 2040, the planning area could grow by more than 14,000 people.

“As builders, we’d like to see some more kind of core residential stuff happening. If the BUILD grant comes through, that area between town and the airport will satisfy that as well,” Frey said.

A larger population means that housing areas will be more dense. Frey hopes that future neighborhoods will be constructed around a commercial hub of stores and restaurants.

“We’re just going to have to start building closer together, with smaller footprints,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of great jobs and companies that want to move to Missoula, but we don’t have the housing for them at this moment.”

Some new features on the map include a Community Mixed Use land use designation east of the airport and Live/Make neighborhoods.

The Community Mixed Use designation focuses on bringing a variety of housing types to different social and economic classes. This area will also have houses within walking distance of shops, restaurants and grocery stores.

“You could be a college kid renting an apartment in that area, you could be a family with two small children owning a house in that area, you could be a senior citizen living in a retirement community in the same area. You could spend your whole lifespan within that area. There are housing types for everybody,” Hagemeier said.

The Live/Make land use designation covers parts of East Missoula and West Riverside, and allows residents to maintain shops or small business on their property. It’s a unique part of that community and its residents’ livelihoods, Hagemeier said.

“Small manufacturing, zero to five employees, is just so important to Montana’s economy,” he said. “The idea is that you can have these small manufacturers in these areas. They can get their start, zero to five employees, and once they start growing, then it’s time to move somewhere else.

“When you’re small, we want a place for those things to happen. It’s part of that entrepreneurial ecosystem that we need.”

After the final round of open houses, the map will be presented to the Missoula County commissioners and the Missoula County Consolidated Planning Board for approval during a public hearing at the beginning of 2019.

Residents can add comments to the draft of the land use map through Nov. 16 by using the interactive map.