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“We must all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” -Benjamin Franklin

August 14, 2023 by Nicole Masson
Policy/Legislative

August 12, 2023

Pretty good story in The Atlantic earlier this week about the land use bills passed in this year’s Montana legislative session – though the story’s title is rather provocative and not entirely accurate – The Anti-California: How Montana Performed a Housing Miracle.  It’s not accurate in that California’s state legislature has been trying mightily to change local land use practices to allow for construction of more housing.  Montana accomplished much in one legislative session, different from California, for one big reason, I think – the local governments collaborated and bought in, and state officials sought their input.

The Atlantic story notes that Montana Governor Greg Gianforte tackled the housing affordability issue thus:

Last July, Gianforte created a housing task force, bringing together homebuilders, politicians, experts, and advocates… . In October, the group delivered a series of proposals to state officials; in December, to local officials. Montana’s legislature debated a set of bills based on those recommendations. Then it passed them this spring. The state transformed its land-use policies. It set itself up for dense development. It did this on a bipartisan basis and at warp speed.

The Task Force included local elected officials, and, as the story noted, the recommendations of the Task Force were presented to local officials before they were taken up in the legislature.

What the story didn’t outline, was something I noted in my March 7 blog post, about the biggest of the bills passed – SB382, the Montana Land Use Planning Act:

Notably, the bill was (largely) written by Kelly Lynch, executive director of the Montana League of Cities and Towns, who has a Masters Degree in Urban Planning and has worked in Community Development in the past.

The Atlantic story notes that there were several other bills that passed as well:

“We obviously did not anticipate being able to get the big wins we did,” Kendall Cotton, the founder of the local think tank the Frontier Institute and a driving force behind the housing bills, told me. “We thought maybe there might be one bill that passed. We ended up getting almost everything that we were asking for.”

Not all of these other bills were supported by local government.  But, after hearing local government concerns, things changed.  As noted in a  Helena TV new story:

… during the process, the League expressed more concerns about other zoning-related bills that they said would impose top-down mandates on cities.

Lynch said these bills have been amended in ways that will make them easier for local governments to implement.

“Our position has been that our cities have already been working on these issues for a lot of years,” she said. “We have planners who go to the national conferences. These kinds of discussions have been happening for a long time. But when you go through that local public process, it takes a lot longer. But I think most of them are already in a situation, are very close to having these same types of regulations, especially in the form that the bills are in now.”

Now Montana is being recognized as a national leader in land use regulatory reform, in a way different from that which California and Oregon are being touted for.  As I have noted in previous postings, local implementation of the reforms in those states are proceeding more in fits and starts, if at all.

And as I have also noted, we’ve got a pretty good collaborative process going on here in Utah, led on the local front by the Utah League of Cities and Towns (who APA Utah is working with closely).

Long live collaboration!  It would sure help in our national politics, too!

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