Montana Passes Sweeping Legislative Package to Rescind ‘California-Style-Zoning’

The Mon­tana State Leg­is­la­ture on Thurs­day approved three large pro-devel­op­ment bills, includ­ing statewide zon­ing reforms that “broad­ly [restore] the right of landown­ers to build mid­dle den­si­ty starter homes like duplex­es and triplex­es in exist­ing urban areas.” Kendall Cot­ton, the pres­i­dent and CEO of Fron­tier Mon­tana, broke the news of the leg­isla­tive accom­plish­ment on Twit­ter on Thurs­day evening. More pro-devel­op­ment leg­is­la­tion is for approval soon.

To describe the sub­stance of the three bills approved last , Rel­man writes the fol­low­ing sum­ma­ry: “Sen­ate Bill 245 will allow mul­ti-fam­i­ly hous­ing and mixed-use devel­op­ment in urban com­mer­cial zones that pre­vi­ous­ly only allowed office and retail space and park­ing. Sen­ate Bill 323 will allow duplex­es to be in cities. And SB 406 will local author­i­ties from cre­at­ing stricter zon­ing laws than the state’s.”

More specif­i­cal­ly regard­ing SB 323, Rel­man writes: “Per­haps the most far-reach­ing is Sen­ate Bill 382, which will require cities to cre­ate land-use plans for future pop­u­la­tion growth and allo­cate space for more hous­ing.”

Rel­man also notes that anoth­er bill, SB 528, which would legal­ize the con­struc­tion of acces­so­ry dwelling units, is also expect­ed to pass the leg­is­la­ture soon.

The head­lin­ing bill, SB 323, achieves many of the statewide reforms mod­eled by states to the west, name­ly , , and . Giv­en those prece­dents, it’s notable that Repub­li­can leg­is­la­tors and advo­cates like the Fron­tier Group sold these zon­ing reforms as a rejec­tion of “Cal­i­for­nia-Style” zon­ing. A state­ment from Cot­ton on the Fron­tier Group’s web­page ded­i­cat­ed to SB 323 reads “If we don’t want Mon­tana to become like Cal­i­for­nia, we must address the strict Cal­i­for­nia-Style zon­ing reg­u­la­tions in our cities before it’s too late.”

The some­what con­fused polit­i­cal angle has not been lost on media out­lets. “The deep red state of Mon­tana is full of Repub­li­can YIM­BYs, and ’re using the time-hon­ored bipar­ti­san tra­di­tion of mock­ing Cal­i­for­nia to alle­vi­ate their state’s hous­ing afford­abil­i­ty cri­sis,” accord­ing to an arti­cle by Eliza Rel­man for Insid­er.

A few days before the Leg­is­la­ture’s approval of the pack­age of bills, Ben Abram­son wrote for Strong Towns about the fear of “Cal­i­for­nia-style” zon­ing lead­ing the polit­i­cal momen­tum for Mon­tana’s statewide zon­ing reforms.

For more on Cal­i­for­ni­a’s lead­ing role, at both the state and local lev­el, in paving the way for Mon­tana’s round of zon­ing reforms, see numer­ous entries on Plan­e­ti­zen’s Zon­ing Reform tag. This isn’t the first time Repub­li­can politi­cians have tak­en a YIMNY turn. The U.S. Depart­ment of Hous­ing and Urban Devel­op­ment under the Trump admin­is­tra­tion also flirt­ed with pre­emp­tion of local for the sake of hous­ing devel­op­ment.

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