Gallatin County Courthouse File

The sun sets on the Gallatin County Courthouse in this February file photo.

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The finish line is near for Gallatin County’s new growth policy, with the county commission edging closer to adopting a new growth plan.

The Gallatin County Commission at its meeting Tuesday advanced toward adopting a new growth policy for the county. The policy, which is still in draft form, will act as a road map for the next 20 years for land use.

The draft policy, “Envision Gallatin: Tomorrow Together,” outlines a lofty vision for growth in the county and includes detailed criteria for future decisions on land use, infrastructure projects and the creation of subdivisions.

Hearings where public comment will be taken on the draft are planned for July 20 and July 27 at the Gallatin County Courthouse as part of the county commission’s scheduled meetings.

The draft is the culmination of nearly two years of work by the Gallatin County Planning Department and the Growth Steering Policy Committee. Montana law requires that an update to a growth policy — or new policy altogether — be considered every five years. The county commission considered an update in 2014, but the document was not approved.

The county has been using the same growth policy since 2003.

Public input played a determining factor in the creation of the 2021 draft policy. The bulk of the past two years have been spent gathering public comment, which generated the three main themes of the policy: heritage, open space and opportunity.

Gallatin County’s population has grown by roughly 65% since 2003, reaching just over 111,000 people, according to the draft policy. The draft projects that if population growth trends were to continue at the annual 2.75% growth rate, the population would nearly double to 200,000 by 2040.

Garrett McAllister, project lead for the draft growth policy, said the biggest difference between the new policy and the old one is that it is far more robust, especially when it comes to subdivision proposals.

“The whole document is kind of a revamp,” McAllister said.

The state provides a list of seven criteria for subdivisions, and the county must determine the impact of a proposal on these criteria. Factors include impacts on agriculture, wildlife and public health and safety.

The new policy includes maps that can be used as a resource for determining impact on the criteria, with each map showing the varying degrees of impact on available parcels of land — something that was missing from the 2003 policy, McAllister said.

The county’s extent of decision-making covers roughly 53% of land within Gallatin County, according to the draft. The rest of the land is either under the jurisdiction of state and federal agencies, or handled by Bozeman, West Yellowstone, Belgrade and Three Forks — all of which have their own growth policies.

The draft includes that the policy will be a living document, allowing for tweaks and changes to be made even after its adoption.

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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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