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Grass Valley file

Sarah Richey of Five Valleys Land Trust and Brad Isbell stand in 2016 on some of his property in Grass Valley west of Missoula that he placed into a conservation easement. Much of Thursday's discussion about amendments to Missoula County's growth policy  involved impacts to wildlife and agricultural lands in the Grass Valley area.

Tweaks to proposed land use designations and an accompanying map that amend Missoula County’s growth policy prompted the commission to postpone making a decision on whether to adopt the new documents.

A lot of the discussion Thursday involved impacts to wildlife and agricultural lands in the Grass Valley area. Andrew Hagemeier with the county’s Community and Planning Services said they’re trying not to take away development opportunities that exist under the current regulations. But he said the county also wants to support wildlife habitat and travel corridors, as well as prime agricultural property.

The final proposal from the planning board included dropping development from one home on 5 acres to one home on 40 acres in some areas, but Hagemeier said during the past week planning staff created a compromise that accounts for natural barricades for development. They also explored ways to support types of cluster housing that could increase the number of homes on a parcel, yet preserve open spaces.

“The flood plain really reduces the developable area, and conservation easements take more,” Hagemeier told the commission during Thursday’s public hearing. “West of Deschamps Road there’s not much developable land left. The impacts to agricultural lands and wildlife already occurred.”

But east of Deschamps Road is another story, he added, and that’s where they possibly found middle ground. They propose changing the designation from working lands to a combination of rural residential and agriculture, which supports places to farm but clusters residences into areas with fewer land use constraints.

They also proposed minor changes to commercial designations in the Buckhouse Bridge and Blue Mountain Road area, and possibly switching the DeSmet school area from industrial zoning to a neighborhood center to make safer travel corridors for students.

Most of Thursday’s comments were in favor of the tweaks, but the commissioners wanted to give people a little more time to fully digest their impacts, and continued the public hearing until 2 p.m. May 2.

The formal name of the 48-page draft document is the Missoula Area Land Use Element. It’s the first step in updating the county’s zoning ordinances, which they anticipate will be an 18-month process that follows the adoption of the land use element. The map is considered to be a vision of where growth will occur in Missoula County during the next 20 years.

It looks at the existing infrastructure of roads, sewers and water, as well as the natural features, to develop 15 land use designations “that describe places with similar goals, characteristics, uses and mobility considerations,” Christine Dascenzo, who also helped create the document, wrote in a memo to the county commissioners. “The designations are meant to be general.”

The goal is to guide development to areas where the existing infrastructure exists, while protecting rural uses and natural features.

The document is accompanied by a new land use map, which is the focus of some of the concerns. The current map was adopted in the 1970s and updated occasionally. The 2016 Missoula County Growth Policy noted that the new land use designation map was a high priority, since it’s a “spatial and visual representation of a community’s policy and values.”

The brightly colored map has 15 land use designations, such as agriculture, rural residential and commercial center, which is down from 64 when the previous map was adopted.

At that time, Missoula County’s population was 58,000 people; since then, it’s doubled to about 117,000 people, and is expected to reach 140,000 people by 2040. About 87% of that growth is anticipated to take place in the Missoula Valley.

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