Missoula County Commissioners Discuss Zoning Change and Larchmont
Once a month, Missoula County Commissioners visit KGVO to discuss county issues and answer questions from listeners.
On Wednesday, President Juanita Vero and Commissioner Josh Slotnick and Senior Planner Andrew Hagemaier came to our studios specifically to discuss proposed new zoning ordinances, the first zoning changes in nearly 50 years.
Hagemaier first described new zoning regulations that were developed more than five years ago.
“Zoning is supposed to reflect the values of your community; where you want the growth to happen and what you want it to look like,” Hagemaier said. “So while our zoning is almost 50 years old, the growth that’s happening right now is more reflective of the community values of the last 50 years. We have been working on it (new zoning) for almost five years. We started with a big community outreach process that involved thousands of people, lots of meetings all over the valley, and we basically came up with a map that this is where we want residential to go; that’s where we want trade to go and that’s where we want agriculture and industry.
A listener complained that the reason housing is so expensive in Missoula was because too many people are moving in, rather than just visiting as tourists, to which Commissioner Slotnick provided this response.
“What is costing so much money is that we are victims of intense national demand,” Slotnick said. “We are growing at an incredibly fast rate and thanks to the ‘ZOOM’ phenomenon, people who work on the coast can now live in Missoula. So they work on a salary scale that is not ours, but live here and then apply those funds to this housing market. Exercising this demand more than anything else drives up the cost of housing. We have national demand and local supply.
Another complaint from an auditor was aimed at the high property taxes Missoula County residents must pay. Slotnick said that’s because property taxes are the county’s only funding mechanism.
“Property taxes are the only source of revenue with which we can provide services,” he said. “It’s everything from the school district hiring teachers to us hiring sheriff’s deputies or making sure the roads are cleared of snow. The only way we can pay for these things is through property taxes. This makes us very unusual compared to almost every other state in the country and every other county within those states, as most other places have other sources of revenue, such as state sales tax, local sales tax, real estate transfer tax, excise taxes, bed taxes, all sorts of things. Instead, we only have one tool.
A listener referred to the small portable houses that were purchased over a year ago but had yet to be built and used for the homeless. Slotnick explained the delay.
“We have a place for them, when we bought them we had a few potential places,” he said. “We also knew they were going to disappear if we didn’t get them by then due to the same supply chain issues and inflation. So we took advantage of getting them when we could with federal money, and hopefully if all goes well there will be some in the next two months on our site.
Commissioner Vero’s chair then added this comment.
“We just got the text here saying yes we can release the location and it’s next to Trinity Center on the corner of Mullan Road and Broadway,” she said.
The portable housing is intended to replace the TSOS (Temporary Safe Outdoor Space) camp currently on Highway 93 south toward Missoula. It will be moved this fall.
Near the end of the hour-long visit with the commissioners, another caller criticized the county for proposing to turn Larchmont Golf Course into a housing estate, and Slotnick said the proposal was not accepted.
“All I can say about Larchmont is that it sounds like you were concerned that we were selling Larchmont for housing, and we’ve decided not to accept the developer on their proposal,” he said. declared. “What we are doing instead is an inventory of all the land the county owns to see if we actually have suitable land for development. And then after going through that inventory, we’ll have a public process so people can comment on that.
Click the link to hear the full County Talk discussion.
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