affordable housing

An affordable housing development is under various states of construction on Tschache Lane in Bozeman on June 15.

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Consultants hired to review the city’s development code and review processes through the lens of creating and preserving affordable housing are gathering feedback on a draft report.

The report, released in August, lists specific and broad recommendations for changes to the city’s code and review process. Don Elliott, with Denver-based Clarion Associates, said during a meeting Wednesday that there has been a wide range of feedback on the recommendations his firm made to the city’s unified development code.

“There is no easy answer to this, if it was easy, we would have solved it already,” Elliott said. “Everybody wants Bozeman, at the end of the day, to remain Bozeman, even if it has to accommodate more people.”

Wednesday’s public meeting was one of several dedicated to reviewing the draft report on how the unified development code impacts affordable housing. Clarion Associates were paid just under $140,000 for the work.

The city is also looking for comment on proposed changes to the planned unit development regulations and departures from standards to aid affordable housing development.

Clarion and the city also plan to draft revisions to the planned unit development regulations and the affordable housing ordinance, which needs to be completely rewritten as its main focus — requiring developers to sell a portion of units in a development at an affordable price — was outlawed by the the Montana Legislature earlier this year.

Elliott noted Bozeman is in need of two different types of housing, “capital A” affordable housing, which is income-restricted housing, and “little a” affordable housing, which is just general increases to the housing supply in an effort to appease demand and lower prices.

There are five desired outcomes, Elliott said: creating more housing, preserving existing housing, making development standards more predictable, revising the housing review process and the city’s zoning map.

Part of the first goal to create more housing is to allow more housing in existing zoning districts. For example, permitting two units without requiring additional lot size requirements in the city’s two lowest-density residential districts.

Elliott noted covenants and homeowners associations may pose a barrier to those measures.

Other potential solutions Elliott shared are to reduce parking requirements and to simplify rules for accessory dwelling units, which are smaller, secondary units in addition to a main house.

When it comes to preserving existing housing, recommendations include creating an overlay district to preserve smaller, older homes in parts of the city and protecting manufactured home parks.

The analysis also includes suggestions to make the city’s development standards more predictable. Elliott suggested the city try to use more objective language: using specific measures like similarly tall or scaled buildings to determine whether a development fits in an area rather than more general terms like “compatibility.”

“Use language that doesn’t lead to an argument between neighbors, and developers or neighbors and property owners: is it compatible, is it not. Those are terrible words because you can read into them whatever you want,” Elliott said.

Another recommendation is to simplify the development review process, including reducing the amount of information developers are required to provide up front, which Elliott said can significantly add to project costs.

Elliott also suggested the city allow for more plans to be approved on an administrative level rather than by elected officials. The city could also look at revising the zoning map, Elliott said, to reduce the number of areas zoned for only a single housing type.

As the city goes through the overhaul of its development processes, Elliott said it also needs to take a look at whether it can administer everything.

“In every debate, you have to ask yourself, ‘Can we administer what we’re suggesting?’ And so staff has to embrace them, and people have to embrace them as doable, given how hard it is to run a big city,” Elliott said.

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

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