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The Gallatin County Commission denied a request to rezone parcels of land just outside Bozeman’s city limits Tuesday.

Developer True North Partners, along with five other landowners, requested that about 120 acres spread across six adjoining parcels of land be rezoned from agricultural suburban to residential suburban.

The properties are about a half mile west of Bozeman’s city limits, and sit near the northeast corner of Cottonwood Road and Blackwood Road.

The ultimate goal of the zoning change was to prepare the lots to possibly be annexed by Bozeman in the future.

By changing to a residential suburban designation, the property owners would have been able to subdivide a portion of the property to eventually sell, according to documents submitted to the county.

However, a neighboring property would have to be annexed before the combined 120 acres could be brought inside Bozeman city limits.

Commissioner Joe Skinner said that changing the zoning designation would set up a “leapfrog development” because of differences in allowed building density between the proposed properties and surrounding land.

The difference in density could also complicate the city annexing the property in the future. Skinner said that it took him many years to realize that a lot of county policies put a “border on the city.”

“When the city gets there, they cannot annex it because it is not the right density,” Skinner said.

The zoning change would have allowed the developers to build as many as 120 units on the parcels.

Skinner added that the zoning change would be akin to “spot zoning,” because the potential uses would be significantly different from the prevailing agricultural land use in the area.

Jeremy May, the principal engineer for Headwaters Engineering, spoke on behalf of the developers. He said that the existing county regulations would not allow that many units, and estimated that there would be roughly 40 units on the property.

Tracey Poole, the owner of True North and one of the parcels, said that the idea was for possible development to act like a “bookend” for future high-density developments coming from Bozeman.

Poole said that the intent was to build four units on each parcel.

The Gallatin County Planning Board unanimously recommended the county commission deny the request on March 22.

Commissioner Scott MacFarlane said he agreed with the planning board’s findings, which raised concerns of spot zoning, the proposed zoning change’s compliance with the Triangle Community Plan, Gallatin County Growth Policy and the Gallatin County/Bozeman Area plan.

Bozeman Community Development Manager Chris Saunders sent a letter to the county against the zoning change.

Saunders said in the letter that establishing a low-density residential development in the area would inhibit the connection of city water and sewer services, encourage the use of septic systems in areas with high ground water and inhibit the development of a well-connected transportation network.

The 120 acres sits inside the county’s sole opportunity zone, which is a tax incentive program designed to attract investments and development in low-income areas, according to the Montana Department of Commerce.

The program became law as a part of the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017.

“The whole purpose of even owning property here is because of that opportunity zone,” Poole said.

Poole added that the tax incentives kick in after 10 years, starting from the date of purchase. Taxes on an investment in an opportunity zone — like a subdivision — are forgiven after a decade, according to the state’s Department of Commerce.

Commissioner Zach Brown was alarmed by the placement of the zone, but did not put blame on Poole for trying to use the program.

Brown said that when he was a legislator on the Montana House Taxation Committee in 2017 the program was sold as a relief to working class Americans. He described the map shown during the meeting by the developers as a “distortion” of that sales pitch.

“The idea that that tax incentive is being applied in one of the fastest growth counties in the country in a fairly high earning census tract to further incentivize development seems like a wild distortion,” Brown said.

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Alex Miller is the county and state government reporter and can be reached at amiller@dailychronicle.com or by phone at 406-582-2648.

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