Montana Land Use Reform Overhauls Public Participation Rules

In a bid to streamline housing permits, new state legislation limits public input to the land use planning stage.

2 minute read

January 24, 2024, 11:00 AM PST

By Mary Hammon @marykhammon

Bird's eye view of downtown Bozeman, Montana, with mountains on the horizon

Jacob / Adobe Stock

Sweeping land use reform measures passed by the 2023 Montana legislature last year include big changes to public participation rules in the state. The legislation was aimed at reforming the state's land-use codes to address the housing crisis and was a top priority for Gov. Greg Gianforte, who charged legislators with cutting so-called red tape that stymies new development, reports Daily Interlake.

“Among the sweeping reform measures was Senate Bill 382 and the Montana Land Use Planning Act. The measure takes aim at not-in-my-backyard type public uprisings that frequently challenge proposals for new subdivisions or multi-family developments.”

The new law, which requires cities with 5,000 or more residents in counties exceeding 70,000 people to create a new land-use plan and map, marks a major departure from traditional public participation rules. Under these new rules, public stakeholders will have the opportunity to give input during the creation of the land-use plan. Once it is finalized, city staff will be able to sign off on projects without bringing it before a planning commission or city council for final approval.

“The whole idea behind this is to flip that, so that we do the planning and the public participation up front, we front-load it, then as we get to the permitting and the platting that becomes a very administrative process,” Montana League of Cities and Towns Executive Director Kelly Lynch told the Montana Free Press last year.

The law is facing legal challenges on constitutional grounds, but if upheld, it will reshape public participation in Montana’s larger cities. Then the question will be, will other states follow suit?

Sunday, January 14, 2024 in Daily Inter Lake

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