County housing project

The Gallatin County Rest Home can be seen on the far side of a vacant property, also owned by the county, on Oct. 14.

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A proposal to bring housing and potentially child care to a parcel of county-owned land in the middle of Bozeman passed an early hurdle Tuesday.

Bozeman city commissioners provisionally approved the rezoning of about 10 acres of county land north of Durston Road, where the Gallatin Rest Home sits, from R-3, residential medium density, to R-4, residential high density.

The county is in the early stages of a project to bring housing to that parcel, partially to address the difficulties it has in filling open positions as the region’s high housing costs cause workforce shortages. There is also a plan to add child care to the project. Representatives for the county said they requested the zoning change partly to allow for more flexibility with the site plans, which have not been laid out yet.

Though there is no plan for the land, the rezoning proposal drew fierce criticism from about 10 residents who neighbor the parcel during public comment.

The residents questioned why the county was pursuing the rezoning before having a site plan — the city doesn’t require rezoning requests to have a site plan — and brought up concerns that denser development on that land would irrevocably change the “character” of their neighborhood.

The R-3 and R-4 districts are similar, though R-4 does allow for more “intensive” apartment buildings, Community Development Manager Chris Saunders said. Buildings in an R-4 district can be four feet taller, but the required setbacks between the two are the same. Both allow for child care facilities.

Deirdre Lambert, who lives near the open land, said neighbors understand the land will be developed, but said they feel like they are not being listened to.

She and other public commenters said they think development to an R-4 level on the land will change the character of their neighborhood. Others also brought up concerns that dense residential development would have adverse traffic and parking impacts.

“We have a really trusting, respectful neighborhood, and we’re really dedicated to protecting it,” Lambert said. “There’s no way to add condos to this lot and maintain the character.”

County Commissioner Scott MacFarlane said the county would work to include input from neighbors while working on development plans. The county’s plans for developing the land are undetermined at this point.

“The county is not just your average developer. As we move forward with what’s going to happen on this property, it’ll be a completely open process,” MacFarlane said.

Lambert also collected signatures from her neighbors to file a formal protest to the zone map amendment, which required the city commission to approve the matter with a vote of 4-1. It did so Tuesday, with Commissioner Jennifer Madgic casting the lone vote against the proposal.

Madgic said she is concerned with the transportation impacts of the zoning change and said she doesn’t believe the proposal was ready to be approved.

Commissioner I-Ho Pomeroy said the land is perfect for infill development, which is a priority of the city.

“We have to protect our open spaces, and we have to stop sprawling, and we have to use the land very wisely,” Pomeroy said.

Several commissioners pushed back against the public comment. Commissioner Christopher Coburn said some of the concerns used “coded” language.

“The truth is that people who live in apartments, people who live in higher-density developments, people who live in higher-density diverse neighborhoods, they have kids, they have pets, they have families, they have jobs that contribute to our community,” Coburn said. “They should be invited into spaces in our community not pushed away or pushed back, because they are just like everybody else.”

Mayor Cyndy Andrus echoed Coburn’s comments and said she disagrees that higher-density housing would bring down the value of nearby single-family homes or impact their quality of life.

Andrus said Bozeman residents need to accept that the city’s growth plan calls for an increased diversity of housing.

“I’m not trying to be callous or dismiss that by any means, but it’s just inevitable when you, when you live next to undeveloped land that something’s going to developed there ... if you’re living right up against some undeveloped area it’s definitely going to have an impact, whether it’s R-3 or R-4, or even R-1,” Andrus said. “I understand and I’m empathetic to that, but again we’re in a growing and changing community.”

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

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