Local government entities have a vision for the way they want the greater Belgrade-Bozeman area to look after Gallatin County’s population has roughly doubled to 200,000 residents over the next 20 years.
That vision encompasses urban centers and neighborhoods existing in well-planned clusters, connected by efficient street and trail systems for motor vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians, and buffered by agricultural lands and open spaces. Preservation of natural resources, irrigation resources, wetlands, wildlife habitat and outdoor recreational opportunities would be factors considered during new development review.
Toward that end, a committee of nine government officials, jurisdictional staff members and citizen representatives from Belgrade, Bozeman and Gallatin County have been working for three years to create the “Triangle Community Plan” – a document that will direct future land use and development in the area known as the Triangle, which is bordered roughly by Belgrade and Interstate 90 on the north, the Gallatin River on the west, Four Corners/Blackwood Road on the south, and Davis Lane/South 19th Avenue in Bozeman on the east.
The effort was based on the belief that, as stated in the plan, “Regional coordination creates and maintains a coherent land use pattern that supports the needs of existing and future citizens and the desire to protect community character and amenities.”
A draft of the document has just been published, and the committee has scheduled four open houses for the purposes of presenting it and soliciting citizen comment before the final plan adopted by Gallatin County and the cities of Belgrade and Bozeman.
“This is a plan to coordinate development,” explained Gallatin County Commissioner Don Seifert, who sits on the committee that drafted the plan. “It’s a document that begins to show that there will be orderly development and that infrastructure lines up.”
Once adopted, the plan will steer all development within the designated area. It does not include any zoning for currently unzoned areas, nor does it overturn any existing zoning designations within the Triangle. Portions of four zoning districts, including Four Corners, Gallatin County/Bozeman Area, and River Rock, lie within the plan’s boundaries.
The plan does suggest creating “a singular zoning district within the county portion of the Triangle that is consistent to the greatest extent possible with the adopted regulations of Bozeman and Belgrade.”
It further stipulates that Belgrade establish zoning in currently unzoned areas of the city’s planning jurisdiction south of the city limits. Belgrade Planning Director Jason Karp, also a member of the Triangle Plan committee, said the zoning process was started in 2010, but “didn’t get all the way to the finish line.” The city is continuing the work started then, and Karp expects that the zoning ultimately adopted will be in keeping with the mixed use development already in that area. Those zoning regulations will be subject to county approval.
The draft Triangle Plan calls for the creation of a Memorandum of Understanding between Gallatin County and the cities of Bozeman and Belgrade in regard to annexation policies. Karp said that provision is more applicable to Bozeman, because unlike Belgrade, the larger city doesn’t have a planning jurisdiction outside its city limits. That means proposed projects near, but outside of, Bozeman’s city limits currently must be
approved both by Bozeman and Gallatin County. In Belgrade, projects outside of but within 4½ miles of the city limits are handled only by the city.
After the Triangle Plan is adopted, Karp said, development proposed inside the Triangle – including in unzoned areas – would be subject to the guidelines outlined in the plan. In order for any proposal that didn’t fit within its parameters to be approved, the plan would have to be amended first, and Karp doesn’t believe that is likely to happen.
“The plan is general enough and flexible enough that we should be able to work with it,” Karp said. “Anything vastly different probably wouldn’t be something we’d want to deal with.”
Karp said the planning committee’s meetings were attended by stakeholders representing a number of special interests, including agriculture, water use, trails, schools and emergency services. Their input was considered during drafting of the plan.
Both he and Seifert emphasized the plan prioritizes preservation of the water resources that will keep irrigation ditches flowing in the Triangle. Karp said members of the public who had expressed concerns about water issues throughout the process complimented the committee at its last meeting for its work and the final recommendations in the plan.
“It’s the irrigation ditches flowing that keep the valley nice and green,” Karp said. “A lot of people don’t realize how important they are.”
Aside from water, Karp said, connectivity of trails was a primary concern brought before the committee, and it is also addressed extensively in the draft document.
“There will ultimately be a connected trail system,” agreed Seifert. “It ensures recreation will be there.”
Karp said the process of creating the plan has been, in itself, useful.
“This has been a really interesting process,” Karp said. “”We’ve been able to talk about things we wouldn’t have known about without it.”
For example, Karp said, he learned that a number of people have chosen to locate their projects in Belgrade because they were unable to proceed with plans in Four Corners, due to lack of utility infrastructure there.
After the open houses, a final Triangle Plan will be drafted, and must be approved first by the Belgrade, Bozeman and Gallatin County planning boards, and then by each respective governmental entity. That is expected to happen early next year.