Land development code changes up for consideration tonight
The first batch of changes to the city’s land development code are scheduled for a vote during tonight’s City Commission meeting.
The proposed changes include language that pertain to the applicability of zoning regulations to public entities.
The planning board voted unanimously in January to recommend that the commission approve the changes. There was no public comment during that meeting or the Feb. 19 commission meeting when the changes were presented on first reading.
The changes will affect Great Falls Public Schools and Commissioner Mary Moe asked if they’d been submitted to the district for consideration. City Attorney Sara Sexe said it’s not the city’s practice to submit changes to its own code to outside agencies beyond the normal public notice, but the district is aware of the proposed changes.
Staff has proposed changes to Title 17, Chapter 4 to clarify what city zoning regulations apply to public entities developing land and would clarify that public entities are only exempt from regulations that are specifically designated by state law which are:
- the height, number of stories, and size of buildings and other structures;
- the percentage of lot that may be occupied;
- the size of yards, courts, and other open spaces;
- the density of population; and
- the location and use of buildings, structures, and land for trade, industry, residence, or other purposes.
The proposed amendments clarify the process the public entity would be required to follow to be exempt from the above listed regulations. It would also specifically require that public entities developing property to comply with all other development and property maintenance standards outlined in the city code. Those standards include parking and landscaping.
Assistant City Attorney Joe Cik told commissioners during a Feb. 5 work session that the changes will not affect the current GFPS projects.
For future projects, GFPS could use the variance process in code just as any private commercial developer can and was recently used for the west side North 40 project.
The proposed changes stem in part from issues identified in the code and processes as GFPS has been building new schools under the bond levy. The city and GFPS have disagreed on interpretation of state law and what development regulations apply to the school district.
GFPS has argued that the district doesn’t have to comply with zoning or development standards, but city staff contend that the development standards, which include landscaping, parking, setbacks and more, do apply to other government entities when they develop contrary to zoning.
The caveat to that, Cik said during the January planning board meeting and again at the Feb. 5 work session, is that any privately owned property being developed for public use will not be exempt from any zoning or development standards. An example of that in Great Falls is the federal courthouse, which is privately owned and leased to the government.
The city has been working for years to update city code, primarily for typographical errors, correcting numbering issues, and areas where the code conflicts with itself, state or federal laws.
While not necessarily intended as a major policy overhaul, there have been some significant, substantive changes throughout the process that Cik has spearheaded for the last two years.
For the last several months, city staff have been working through Title 17, the city’s land development code, to identify needed changes and they’ll likely be bringing recommended updates to the planning board and commission chapter by chapter versus trying to wade through the entire 440-plus page code section at once.
Cik told planning board members in January that the land development code was adopted in 2005 after a multiyear community effort with the help of a consultant and the code has been largely untouched since.