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A bill to ban inclusionary zoning passed the Montana Senate on Friday, legislation that could nullify a key part of Bozeman’s affordable housing strategy.

House Bill 259, introduced by Rep. Sue Vinton, R-Billings, would prohibit local governments from requiring developers to pay a fee that would go toward providing homes at specified prices or for people in specific income levels. The Senate passed the bill on a vote of 31-19 on Friday and it will be sent to the House for final approval. The House originally passed the bill in February.

The legislation will nix Bozeman’s inclusionary zoning ordinance that requires 10% of developments of more than 10 homes be priced affordably.

City officials on Friday decried the vote.

“The action today not only stomps all over local control, but also prohibits the City of Bozeman from combating the most difficult problem facing the Gallatin Valley — housing affordability,” City Manager Jeff Mihelich said in a statement.

Opponents of the bill have criticized it for encroaching on the powers of local governments, limiting municipalities’ ability to address affordable housing and mischaracterizing the impacts of inclusionary zoning.

During committee hearings, the bill was opposed by representatives from several Montana cities other than Bozeman, including Missoula and Billings.

Sen. Ellie Boldman, D-Missoula, during a floor debate on the bill Thursday urged her colleagues to “leave us alone and let us come up with our own solutions.”

Bozeman Mayor Cyndy Andrus said in an interview Friday that the city is “just losing this battle left and right.

“When the Legislature steps in and tries to mandate things that work across the whole state, it just doesn’t work. Every community is different,” Andrus said. “If we cannot respond to the needs of our community, particularly around affordable housing, then we will become some place just for the wealthy.”

The bill’s supporters, however, argue that inclusionary zoning increases the costs of other homes in a development and that it puts undue burden on developers to address affordable housing.

Vinton, the sponsor of the legislation, referred to the practice of inclusionary zoning as a “weapon” during previous committee hearings on the bill.

“I believe in local control but when local control is overreach and they start infringing on your constitutional rights and taking away value from your property then we can’t support that,” Sen. Greg Hertz, R-Polson, said during Thursday’s floor session.

Others criticized the policy for not being effective, pointing to the fact that only 17 homes have been built in Bozeman under the ordinance.

Deputy Mayor Terry Cunningham disagreed with the bill’s supporters, saying the city worked with developers on the ordinance, and that more affordable homes were on the way as a result of the ordinance.

“The notion that inclusionary zoning is a weapon to be used against developers is simply not true,” Cunningham said in an interview Friday. “Taking this away eliminates yet another tool for municipalities who are really struggling with this issue. And it’s a real issue, it’s a bread and butter issue of how do we allow our workforce and young families to stay in Bozeman. It’s just unfortunate that this happened in this way.”

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Nora Shelly can be reached at or 406-582-2607.

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