Montana Passes Sweeping Legislative Package to Rescind ‘California-Style-Zoning’

The Montana State Legislature recently approved a package of zoning reform bills modeled closely on bills approved in West Coast states, including the state of California, in recent years.

2 minute read

April 16, 2023, 11:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

Aerial view of Montana state capitol building in Helena, Montana

Mihai_Andritoiu / Montana state capitol, Helena

The Montana State Legislature on Thursday approved three large pro-development bills, including statewide zoning reforms that “broadly [restore] the right of landowners to build middle density starter homes like duplexes and triplexes in existing urban areas.” Kendall Cotton, the president and CEO of Frontier Montana, broke the news of the legislative accomplishment on Twitter on Thursday evening. More pro-development legislation is expected for approval soon.

To describe the substance of the three bills approved last week, Relman writes the following summary: “Senate Bill 245 will allow multi-family housing and mixed-use development in urban commercial zones that previously only allowed office and retail space and parking. Senate Bill 323 will allow duplexes to be built in cities. And SB 406 will prevent local authorities from creating stricter zoning laws than the state's.”

More specifically regarding SB 323, Relman writes: “Perhaps the most far-reaching is Senate Bill 382, which will require cities to create land-use plans for future population growth and allocate space for more housing.”

Relman also notes that another bill, SB 528, which would legalize the construction of accessory dwelling units, is also expected to pass the legislature soon.

The headlining bill, SB 323, achieves many of the statewide reforms modeled by states to the west, namely Oregon, Washington, and California. Given those precedents, it’s notable that Republican legislators and advocates like the Frontier Group sold these zoning reforms as a rejection of “California-Style” zoning. A statement from Cotton on the Frontier Group’s webpage dedicated to SB 323 reads “If we don’t want Montana to become like California, we must address the strict California-Style zoning regulations in our cities before it’s too late.”

The somewhat confused political angle has not been lost on media outlets. “The deep red state of Montana is full of Republican YIMBYs, and they're using the time-honored bipartisan tradition of mocking California to alleviate their state's housing affordability crisis,” according to an article by Eliza Relman for Business Insider.

A few days before the Legislature’s approval of the package of bills, Ben Abramson wrote for Strong Towns about the fear of “California-style” zoning leading the political momentum for Montana’s statewide zoning reforms.

For more on California’s leading role, at both the state and local level, in paving the way for Montana’s round of zoning reforms, see numerous entries on Planetizen’s Zoning Reform tag. This isn’t the first time Republican politicians have taken a YIMBY turn. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under the Trump administration also flirted with preemption of local control for the sake of housing development.

Friday, April 14, 2023 in Business Insider

Red on white 'Room for Rent, Inquire Inside' sign

In Most U.S. Cities, Archaic Laws Limit Roommate Living

Critics argue laws preventing unrelated adults from living in the same home fail to understand the modern American household.

May 24, 2023 - The Atlantic

Vancouver Chuck Wolfe

Ten Signs of a Resurgent Downtown

In GeekWire, Chuck Wolfe continues his exploration of a holistic and practical approach to post-pandemic urban center recovery, anchored in local context and community-driven initiatives that promote livability, safety, and sustainability.

May 24, 2023 - GeekWire

New York MTA subway station

Off-Peak is the New On-Peak

Public transit systems in major U.S. cities are starting to focus on non-rush hour travelers as pre-pandemic commuting patterns shift and transportation needs change.

May 19, 2023 - Curbed

Traffic on the 405 interstate freeway through the Sepulveda Pass at Getty Center Drive in Los Angeles, California

Congestion Pricing Could Be Coming to L.A.

The infamously car-centric city is weighing a proposed congestion pricing pilot program to reduce traffic and encourage public transit use.

May 30 - Los Angeles Times

Red, grey, and blue Tesla cars on the back of a truck trailer in Burlingame, California

Key Points From the Tesla Data Leak

Thousands of leaked safety complaints about the electric carmaker reveal a pervasive effort to hide problems from the public and prevent customers from filing lawsuits.

May 30 - Los Angeles Times

Nighttime view of U.S. Capitol and blurred traffic on Pennsylvania Avenue

D.C. Residents Fight Light Pollution

New LED lighting has raised concerns about the health and environmental impacts of excessive or harsh lighting.

May 30 - Route Fifty

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.