While headlines concerning the 2023 Montana Legislative session were dominated by efforts of the Republican supermajority to dismember Montana’s constitution and strip the rights of women and trans Montanans, there was at least one vibrantly bipartisan issue in Helena this year: implementing zoning reforms to clear obstacles to creating the housing needed for Montana to remain an affordable place to live, even at its experiences population growth. Numerous pro-housing bills passed the legislature and have been signed by the Governor with significant bipartisan support.
Sightline has written an excellent summary of the housing-related bills passed during the 2023 legislative session: https://www.sightline.org/2023/05/09/montanas-big-bipartisan-housing-deal/
Here is a very brief synopsis of what these bills mean for Bozeman:
- SB 245 legalized residential uses in all commercial districts. Effectively, Bozeman’s B-2 zones all just became B-2M. The bill also limits parking requirements to no more than 1 space per dwelling.
- SB 528 legalized ADUs statewide. Bozeman already has one of the best ADU policies in the nation, so the only meaningful change is that ADUs may now be up to 1000 SF or 75% of the size of the primary dwelling.
- SB 323 legalized duplexes in all residential zones. Effectively, Bozeman’s R-1 district just became R-2, and all of Bozeman’s R-2 districts can now have duplexes regardless of their lot size.
- SB 382 overhauls the overall comprehensive planning process in a manner that should front load much of the planning process (more engagement up front, less yelling and screaming when a development comes forward that complies with adopted plans and zoning).
- SB 407 eliminates design review boards.
Overall, these are all great reforms that will promote the creation of housing, and, especially, more affordable and compact types of housing.
Implementing these bills provides a great opportunity for Bozeman to show statewide leadership in pre-housing zoning reform. Specific opportunities include:
When implementing SB 245, Bozeman should eliminate parking requirements in commercial districts entirely. (This doesn’t eliminate parking, it lets developers choose the right amount for their development; see the Cannery District for an example of what this looks like.)
When implementing SB 323, Bozeman should expand entitlements for triplex and fourplexes at the same time. R-1 now permits one additional unit due to state law. Add one additional allowable unit to R-2, R-3, and R-4. Eliminate all minimum lot sizes, recognizing that minimum lot widths and required setbacks (combined with lot coverage maximums and floor area ratio maximums) accomplish the same planning objectives.
Overall, in a legislative session dominated by vitriol and attacks on Montanans rights to a healthful environment and privacy, housing was a bright spot in an otherwise pretty awful legislative session.