Fixes to townhome exemption policies remain in committee

The Missoula City Council this week continued its review of changes proposed for an ordinance guiding Townhome Exemption Development projects, and believes it’s close to a final solution.

The tool was approved by the Montana Legislature in 2011 and has proved useful in Missoula for developing infill housing close to city services.

But the City Council placed an interim moratorium on TED projects earlier this year, saying it needed to craft new rules to get ahead of future projects, which have grown larger and more complex over time.

“TED is not a silver bullet for all situations at all times,” said Ben Brewer of Development Services. “It’s meant to be an important tool to add to the city’s housing supply in a timely manner.”

Under the proposed ordinance, TEDs would only be permitted within certain zoning districts, and projects would be capped at 10 to 20 units, based on location.

“The general ideal of implementing a cap on the number of units is to ensure the use of the TED option is limited to developments that aren’t too complex, and to ensure they’re built in a timely manner,” said Brewer.

Brewer said TEDs are useful for developing compact and walkable neighborhoods, and they’re often desired near existing infrastructure.

However, he added, the tool wasn’t intended for greenfield development where public infrastructure is missing. Nor was it designed to end-run the city’s ability to guide development in an orderly manner.

As such, Brewer said, the proposed ordinance would prohibit TED projects from greenfield development, along with those facing certain constraints, such as steep slopes or the lack of connectivity.

It wouldn’t permit a TED project on property already approved for a TED project but not built, and it would require that infrastructure is built within a set period of time.

Regan Brandt, who has developed a number of smaller TED projects in Missoula, gave general support to the city’s efforts to restrict large TED projects and greenfield development.

However, she questioned other elements of the plan.

“This ordinance is not limited to just greenfield development or large TED projects,” she said. “It applies to all TED projects. I’m concerned the ordinance will have unintended or unforeseen consequences that will create barriers for smaller, infill TED projects.

Brandt believes smaller TED projects served by existing infrastructure should be exempt from further restrictions. Language prohibiting a TED on the site of a previously approved TED was also a bad idea, she said.

“Plans change, markets change, and developers quite often have varying visions for development,” she said. “It seems arbitrary to prohibit a TED project simply because there was a previous TED plan that was approved but never built.”

Since 2011, the city has approved seven standard subdivisions compared to 59 TED projects. The latter tool has grown in popularity in recent years, and such projects have grown larger and more complex.

But those larger TED projects also provided the bulk of new housing under the development tool.

“Fifty out of the 59 TED projects have been 10 units or less,” Brewer said. “But that has accounted for roughly 40 percent of the dwelling units versus 60 percent coming out of the larger TEDs.”

The figure may be significant as the city struggles to increase its stock of affordable housing and make it easier for developers to provide that housing across a range of incomes.

“TED projects do not necessarily lead to homes for sale in the range of affordability defined in the housing policy, but they can be a useful tool for adding to the housing supply in the city in a timely manner,” Brewer said.

The proposal goes before the planning board later this month and will likely circle back to the Land Use and Planning Committee in the weeks ahead. The city’s interim moratorium on TED projects sunsets in November.