Montana: Growth policy revisions on way to becoming law

Bozeman Daily Chronicle Staff Writer


HELENA, MT- A bill that weakens growth policies, like the one for Gallatin County, is on its way to becoming law, but it has lost some of its teeth during its journey through the Legislature.

The Montana House approved Senate Bill 326 by an 72-28 vote Friday.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Dan McGee, R-Laurel, rewrites growth policy laws enacted by the Legislature in 1991. Those laws require local governments to develop growth policies that guide zoning and subdivision laws in their jurisdictions.

In an effort to comply, Gallatin County is expected to approve a growth policy later this month that has taken more than three years to draft.

But growth policies have caused a lot of angst.

A handful of city and county officials have complained such policies have opened them up to frivolous lawsuits from environmentalists or anyone against new development.

Other officials - including those in Gallatin County - have said they needed some guidance from the state about how to manage growth in their communities.

The original bill would have made the whole process mandatory instead of voluntary, including what areas - such as land use and natural resources - growth policies had to cover.

But opponents said that simply weakened growth policies too much, nullifying all the work Gallatin County and others had put into their plans.

The amended bill leaves those mandates in place, but the extent to which a growth policy addresses them is now up to the local governing body.

Local governments also can now choose not to adopt a growth policy, and voters can overturn any adopted policies in an election.

Gallatin County Planning Director Jennifer Madgic said she now supports the amended bill. So does Tim Davis of the Montana Smart Growth Coalition, a group that focuses on curtailing sprawl.

A second bill that clarifies the law by stipulating that growth policies are not regulatory documents, SB 340, passed second reading in the


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