Gallatin County Courthouse File

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

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The final draft of Gallatin County’s new growth policy has been released with a goal of guiding the continued growth of the county for the next two decades.

The growth policy, named “Envision Gallatin: Tomorrow Together,” has been two years in the making. The policy could be adopted at a Gallatin County Commission meeting on Sept. 21. Any changes stemming from public comment have been closed, but residents can still offer ideas between now and the proposed adoption date.

Gallatin County’s population leapt to just over 118,000 people, a 33% increase over a 10 year span, according to census data released in August. With such a large growth in population, project leader and Gallatin County Planner Garrett McAllister said the updated policy is coming at a perfect time.

Not much has changed from the first draft of the policy to its final version, McAllister said. Some changes were small tweaks on wording and clarifying areas where the county can “encourage” and “require” elements of the policy.

The growth policy — by itself — is not a regulatory document, but does come with the regulatory authority provided from preexisting regulations, especially when it comes to subdivisions within Gallatin County.

For example, a section of the policy focusing on land use had two similar items. Despite being similar in nature, the language of “require” and “encourage” could have created confusion, especially on important aspects of the policy like the state-provided seven-point criteria for creating new subdivisions.

So planners combined the two and made the wording more straightforward, McAllister said.

“There are parts of the county where we can ‘encourage,’ and parts where we can ‘require,’ depending on zoning,” McAllister said. “Not all of the private land in the county is subject to certain regulations.”

Roughly 53% of the land in Gallatin County falls under the scope of the new policy, with the other portion being under the purview of local, state and federal governments. Bozeman, Belgrade, Manhattan, West Yellowstone and Three Forks all have their own growth policies and the county policy does not have jurisdiction in those areas.

From the first to the final draft, a key aspect was creating consistency.

“If we can’t make you do it through regulations, we ask you to do it,” McAllister said.

The newest iteration of the policy is the first since 2003. Montana law requires that counties reconsider growth policies every five years, but the creation of a new policy is not required.

Work on the growth policy began in 2019, with much of that time spent gathering and considering public input. McAllister said that public comment played an integral part in shaping the policy.

“The intent of the growth policy is to really provide that overarching vision and reflect back to the community what we heard during the outreach process,” McAllister 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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