Blackwood Groves Subdivision

Construction workers make progress on the 120-acre Blackwood Groves subdivision in south Bozeman on Thursday.

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A handful of changes city commissioners approved to Bozeman’s subdivision review process this week are unlikely to have much impact on residents.

Commissioners voted to approve a number of amendments to the city’s subdivision review procedures, including simple clarifications, cleaning up language, providing for more expedited reviews for some subdivisions and more.

The slew of changes are largely a result of new state laws passed during the 2021 Legislature on subdividing, the process through which a large chunk of land is split into individual lots.

Community Development Manager Chris Saunders said during this week’s commission meeting that the Legislature has in general pushed for public engagement to be more focused on larger policy setting and standard development rather than on specific projects.

“The subdivision process often is required to balance competing rights and interests and it is helpful in that process to have established standards so that those balancing prioritizations can happen consistently,” Saunders said.

One bigger change is that subdivisions of any size will be eligible for an expedited review with a deadline of 35 days, but only if the developers are asking for no exceptions to city standards.

Saunders said last month that reviews only happened that quickly in the past for small subdivisions.

“The substance of the review will remain the same,” Saunders said. “There still will be staff reports, the commission will still have to make findings, those kinds of things. So the bulk of it is going to be very recognizable.”

The changes allow city staff to make the final call on more aspects of a development proposal — rather than the city commission — such as final approval for park plans, Saunders said.

There are other small changes, like noticing changes that could result in a shorter notice period. While the city sends out some notices via certified mail, it will now be required to use first class mail.

Another minor change is that reviews will happen at “meetings” and not “hearings,” though Saunders said the actual mechanics of the meeting will be similar.

Part of the changes include new standards that developers talk to agricultural water users that might be impacted by their project earlier in the subdivision process.

Saunders said the city is hearing that agriculture water users are having an increasing number of issues with development, and the goal is to have developers work with them from the beginning.

Deputy Mayor Terry Cunningham said that aspect of the new standards is a good step.

“I think there are additional steps that we need to do in reaching out to the agricultural community, learning about their needs for water, learning about how we can be good stewards collectively of this precious resource as we move forward,” Cunningham said.

Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the changes. Commissioner Jennifer Madgic said it shows how much state law guides the subdivision process.

“There are considerable both rules and sideboards that staff, developers, property owners and ultimately us as decision makers need to follow,” Madgic said. “That can be a really good thing because it adds predictability and clarity to otherwise what can be a complicated process.”

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Nora Shelly can be reached at nshelly@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2607.

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