Construction

A construction worker stands on a lift at new housing on April 22 in Bozeman.

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Building more houses likely won’t solve Bozeman’s housing problem alone.

That was the message Donald Elliott, with Denver-based Clarion Associates, gave this week to a joint meeting of Planning Board and Zoning Commission. Clarion Associates is contracted by the city to audit its development codes.

An oft-cited study from 2019 holds that between 5,400 and 6,340 additional units will need to be added to Bozeman’s housing stock to accommodate the rocketing growth that is anticipated to continue.

Elliott said just focusing on new development is not itself a solution.

“You can’t build your way out of this problem,” Elliott said. “Housing stock only expands 5% a year, less than that. Any serious effort to think about adding affordability has got to take a hard look at the housing that’s already been built and how you’re going to allow that housing stock to be used in more creative ways.”

Elliott attended the meeting Monday with the Zoning Commission and Planning Board to discuss Bozeman’s code audit focused on creating and preserving affordable housing.

Elliott and his firm have been contracted to review the entire code and recommend revisions, particularly on the planned unit development portion and the affordable housing ordinance.

The affordable housing ordinance took a hit earlier this month when Gov. Greg Gianforte signed a bill outlawing inclusionary zoning, prohibiting local governments from requiring developers to pay a fee that would go to providing homes at specified prices or for people in specific income levels.

Feedback from Monday’s meeting, a previous meeting with developers and a general public meeting will play into recommendations on rewriting parts of the code.

Though he offered a warning at the end of the meeting, Elliott said addressing issues with Bozeman’s burdensome building development code is still worthwhile.

“Yes, you have to help people build. Yes, it’s part of the solution,” Elliott said. “And if you do not consider more flexible use of the existing housing stock, you will not get there … it probably can’t be done.”

The affordable housing ordinance should be considered an “add-on” to the overall development codes, Elliott said.

“It is those basic rules of who can build what where under what conditions and with whose approval in Bozeman, that’s where you’re going to make progress on affordable housing,” Elliott said. “The AHO is important, but it is not as important as getting the fundamental rules right.”

Elliott said Bozeman’s code is confusing and in need of some work. Planning Board chair Henry Happel, along with others, agreed with Elliott.

“I think this code is kind of like a coral reef, where new provisions just accreted on top of older provisions, and newer provisions accreted on top of that and so here’s where we’ve got to at this point, and it needs some help,” Happel said.

During the meeting, planning and zoning board members questioned Elliott on different affordable housing strategies and offered suggestions of areas in the code that need to be addressed.

Members suggested taking a look at the code’s parking, landscaping and open space requirements, how to discourage projects that would reduce existing housing density and how to add housing that is not only dense, but affordable.

A third public meeting with Clarion is scheduled for Monday, and the firm is set to offer its recommendations to the city in the coming months.

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

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