Missoula County planners are looking to streamline the county’s subdivision policies to help developers navigate duplicating regulations when annexation into the city is expected to occur.
Tim Worley, the county’s senior planner, asked commissioners this week to consider policy changes that could reduce the complications presented in several area subdivisions, including the Ranch Club off Mullan Road and Linda Vista Estates in the South Hills.
Both projects were reviewed and approved by the county, but have or will be annexed into the city.
“In most cases, developers were promised a sewer connection by the city, and platted lots by the county,” Worley said. “Making them come together at the end is sometimes a challenge. We’re trying to smooth the bumpy road a little bit for developers.”
While developers know they’ll be annexed into the city, Worley said, they’re still required to file improvement guarantees with both the city and the county to ensure they meet the regulations required by each entity.
In many cases, Worley said, developers who build in certain areas of the county must meet city standards for urban development, such as sidewalks, gutters and streets. But the projects must also meet county conditions of approval under state law.
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“They got the promise of a city sewer connection, usually going back several years, but they went through a county platting process, so they have obligations to both jurisdictions,” Worley said. “It would be fine if the obligations don’t cross over, but they tend to overlap. We’re just trying to simplify the process.”
Worley said county staff has identified roughly 12 platted or proposed subdivisions in and around Missoula where current crossover regulations can be problematic.
He said county and city planners could work more closely together to resolve some of the issues and reduce duplication. He’s also asking commissioners to give the county’s planning director more flexibility when a project reaches the final platting phase.
The change would allow the county to release improvement guarantees for infrastructure built to city standards in county-approved subdivisions.
“The city already practices this for the phases coming in from Linda Vista,” Worley said. “We’re proposing doing something similar within the boundaries of our regulations. We’re not setting aside the county public works manual or the county subdivision regulations. It’s a case-by-case basis. We want to be flexible as we can.”
Worley said the case-by-case basis is key to his request. The Ranch Club was approved by the county, but has already been annexed into the city, even though four phases remain undeveloped.
In contrast, he said, the city will only annex phases of Linda Vista Estates as they are completed. The county still regulates each phase of development.
In general, Worley said, building is picking back up.
“We’re starting to see more of the ground-level work,” he said. “We’ve not seen them take off all the way through to the filing of plats yet, but they’re looking at what they already have in front of them.”