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Charlie Deschamps works in the early morning hours one day last week to set sprinkler lines on the farm his family has worked for four generations off Mullan Road between Frenchtown and Missoula. Deschamps is working with the Montana Land Reliance to place a permanent conservation easement on the 545-acre ranch, guaranteeing the land could only be used for agriculture.

The large-scale maps of Missoula County soon filled in with colored dots, writing and Sharpie lines detailing points of development for commercial, residential, industrial and agriculture use.

Eight people sat around the maps in the courthouse Monday, including Commissioner Jean Curtiss, Weed Extension manager Jerry Marks, and interested citizens, there to give their opinion on how Missoula County should plan for growth in the next decades, from Frenchtown to Bonner and from the Upper Rattlesnake to Miller Creek.

“We have limited available land, but don’t want to change our lifestyle,” Marks said. “I dunno quite how to solve it.”

Around 2,000 people move to Missoula County every year, County Planner Andrew Hagemeier said. Eight out of 10 move inside this planning area.

And nearly 21,000 people live outside the city limits, but inside the planning area — a larger population than Kalispell.

“We didn’t have a real solid understanding of how our community’s going to change as it grows,” Hagemeier said. “We’re going to need more residential space, we’re going to need more commercial space, we’re going to need more industrial space.”

Balancing that with Missoula’s value of preserving agricultural land and open space and desire for public transportation networks is where it gets tough.

The original land use map — that the planners-for-a-day were using as a base — was completed in the mid-1970s, according to Hagemeier.

Some parts have been updated, but many haven’t. There are 64 different land use designations on the map.

“In essence, this is a document that reflects our policy, vision and values in 1975,” he said. “It’s about time we get to it.”

Allison Mouch, with Orion Planning and Design, was brought on board to help through the process and help planning staff turn public suggestions into a workable draft map.

Some of the points of emphasis for the county moving forward: more industrial areas, ideally near existing infrastructure and possibly using "live-make" models, where small shop owners live and work on the same site.

More commercial space is needed as well, which would likely need new infrastructure. Housing, especially affordable housing, is needed, but would be much easier and cheaper to build alongside existing sewer lines and roads.

With those thoughts, Hagemeier and Mouch set the group to work, putting down colored dots and writing in recommendations.

Hagemeier and Mouch held five public meetings, in four outlying communities and at the courthouse, to capture people from all corners of the county.

The final of those meetings is Wednesday, March 28, at 6 p.m. at East Missoula Rural Fire Department headquarters, but there will be a second round of public input once the team works through these first suggestions.

Hagemeier said the second round of meetings should come in late spring or early summer and might involve a full draft land use map or be a second set of questions they didn’t get answered the first time.

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City, County Government Reporter

Government reporter for the Missoulian.