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The Gallatin County Commission weighed in on Belgrade’s new growth policy this week and raised questions about high-density development and the expansion of zoning regulations.

Belgrade’s growth policy outlines projected land use and population growth for the next few decades and details the city’s overarching goals, such as promoting affordable housing, revitalizing downtown and expanding trails and bike paths. The policy looks at the area within 4.5 miles of Belgrade because city officials can provide recommendations on those places to the county.

“The county has land within the Belgrade planning area, and we want to help make that area better,” said Commissioner Joe Skinner.

The Belgrade Planning Department will use the growth policy to encourage construction that fills in the gaps between existing developments and to prioritize the development of smaller lots to help increase density and limit sprawl, said Planning Director Jason Karp.

The county commissioners said they understand Belgrade’s priorities but expressed concerns about encouraging high-density development in parts of the county with limited services. Building a significant number of homes in an area that doesn’t have public water and sewer and instead relies on wells and septic tanks would be challenging, they said.

However, Karp said high-density development will prompt water and sewer districts to grow by providing the additional ratepayers needed to finance expansion.

The Belgrade Planning Department will also use the growth policy to guide revisions to city zoning regulations and to decide whether to zone some unzoned areas.

Because some of the areas that may be zoned are in the county, commissioners said they would like to work with Belgrade to understand the process for zoning enforcement, Skinner said. Commissioners also want to ensure that efforts to revise zoning regulations around Belgrade align with county regulations, creating clear and cohesive guidelines.

Karp will present the county’s comments to the Belgrade Planning Board, which may revise the growth policy before bringing it back to the commissioners and the Belgrade City Council for review.

Belgrade last revised its growth policy in 2006. Over the last several months, city officials and CTA Architects Engineers, a consulting firm, updated the 2006 policy and incorporated feedback from residents and local groups like the Belgrade School District and the Bozeman-Yellowstone International Airport.

Across the county, elected officials are updating growth policies. Bozeman, Belgrade and Gallatin County are in the final stages of the Triangle Plan, a joint effort to coordinate services and development in the area bordered by the Frontage Road, 19th Avenue, Huffine Lane and Jackrabbit Lane.

“I think this (Belgrade’s policy) really modernizes the growth policy, and I hope ours turns out like this,” said Sean O’Callaghan, the county’s planning director.

Bozeman is also updating its growth policy, and the county commissioners said they would like to be involved in that process as it may affect their planning efforts.

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Perrin Stein can be reached at pstein@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2648.

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