Belgrade Growth Policy County fight

Belgrade planner Jason Karp met with a bevy of Gallatin County officials last week to discuss conerns about the city’s recently drafted growth policy. Most of the issues revolved around semantics, but two big sticking points are the areas in the southern portion of the 4.5-mile doughnut circling the city – the are arked RLD and shaded light green and the undesignated areas on the periphy of the future land use map.

For the most part, it was a lesson in semantics as Belgrade Planner Jason Karp and Gallatin County officials reviewed the Belgrade Growth Policy last week.

Gallatin County representatives wanted to “open up” language throughout the document that will guide future growth in the 4.5-mile area around the city. The growth policy will eventually be the blue print for future zoning regulations in the area, but in the meantime, county officials want to ensure the document doesn’t pigeonhole or limit projects due to specific language.

Broadening definitions or tweaking sentences wasn’t a big deal, Karp said at the beginning of the meeting.

“We are close to the finish line,” he said. “If we need to make amendments it’s easy to do that.”

But where the county had the most concerns revolved around areas deemed “residential low density,” in the southern portion of the future use map  along with outlying areas on the periphery without a designation.

The Belgrade City-County Planning Board decided the “residential low density” are (shown in light green and marked RLD on the map above) should have a density of 1-5 units per acre, Karp said.

The area already has four high-density subdivisions in the area – Gallatin Heights, Valley Grove, Baxter Creek and Wylie Creek, Karp said. Also, landowners in the RLD have requested a higher density.

The Four Corners Water and Sewer District serves Gallatin Heights, which is just south of the RLD designation, Karp said. It is likely the district will serve any growth south of Cameron Bridge Road, which is currently the loose-cutoff point for the city of Belgrade’s future boundary.

Karp also said the RLD area lies in the future triangle plan growth plan, which would be a good fit. The triangle growth plan is designed to accept growth in the land between Bozeman, Belgrade and Four Corners to fend off sprawl.

“Having half-acre and one-acre lots in the triangle is not a good way to do it,” Karp told the county.

Not only that, but the Four Corners Water and Sewer District needs density to help “pencil out” any future developments for laying pipe and providing service, Karp said. The Belgrade School District is also considering buying land for a new elementary and middle school in the area, which would boost development.

But the county questioned all of those suggestions.

County Planning Director Sean O’Callaghan said current planning policies call for a density of 1.75 units per acre for the land in question, which was backed up by the Four Corners water and sewer suppliers at the time.

But in 2009, the Four Corner Water and Sewer District didn’t own the water or the sewer plant. It was in private hands and the district unsuccessfully tried to buy it at that time. The sale couldn’t be financed due to lack of density. It was later bought in 2015.

Four Corners District officials said they aren’t familiar with the county’s  1.75 unit per acre density requirement. Growth in the district has experienced an annual 15% uptick since 2008, according to district records. Most of the district ground is “more dense than” the county’s designation.

County officials are also concerned about taking on large subdivisions in the area especially if the developments won’t be annexed into the city. Two Gallatin County Commissioners said they had concerns about seeing another “River Rock (subdivision) out there.”

The county handles all policing and land disputes in the subdivisions around River Rock and the task can be consuming, commissioners said.

In the end, Karp is going to take the county suggestions to the Belgrade City-County Planning Board for more discussion and report back to the county.

The Belgrade City Council has delayed approving the city growth policy at the request of Karp until the issues are hashed out with the county. Once approved by the council, any changes made by the county after the fact would trigger the public process and require the city to “start the process all over again,” Karp told the council two weeks ago.

The growth policy is on the city’s website at http://www.ci.belgrade.mt.us/