Zoning is a regulatory land use tool designed to facilitate development that preserves and protects the public health, safety, and general welfare of a community. The objectives for creating zoning could include the protection of sensitive environmental features, promoting compatible development patterns, conservation of open space, and encouraging growth that supports the sustainable use of public infrastructure. There are two types of County zoning authorized under Montana law: Part 1 zoning (MCA Title 76, Chapter 1, Part 1) and Part 2 zoning (MCA Title 76, Chapter 2, Part 2).
To determine your property's zoning, please visit our Interactive Mapping Site.
Part 1 Zoning
Part 1 zoning, also known as citizen-initiated zoning, is petitioned by property owners and, following an established public process, may be approved by the Board of County Commissioners. Lewis and Clark County has several Part 1 zoning districts, which vary greatly in application and intent. Please be aware that the regulations for each Part 1 zoning district are stand alone and that the definitions and interpretations that apply to one district cannot be applied to another.
There are also some areas of Lewis and Clark County where boundaries of more than one Part 1 zoning district and/or Part 2 zoning district intersect. On property where more than one Part 1 zoning district and/or Part 2 Fort Harrison Urban Growth Area Zoning District or Fort Harrison Rural Growth Area Zoning District exist, all regulations are applicable and the more restrictive text will apply. However; on property where a Part 1 zoning district is overlain by the Part 2 Rural Residential Mixed-use Zoning District, Suburban Residential Mixed-use Zoning District, or Urban Residential Mixed-use Zoning District, only the Part 1 zoning regulations will apply.
Part 1 Zoning Regulations
Part 2 Zoning
Part 2 zoning, also known as County-initiated zoning, is initiated by a County to implement the objectives of an adopted Growth Policy and, following an established process, may be approved by the Board of County Commissioners. There are three different sets of Part 2 zoning regulations in Lewis and Clark County: Helena Valley, Fort Harrison Rural Growth Area, and Fort Harrison Urban Growth Area. The Helena Valley Zoning Regulations also consist of the following three districts: Rural, Suburban, and Urban Residential Mixed-use.
Part 2 Zoning Regulations - Helena Valley
Part 2 Zoning Regulations - Fort Harrison Rural Growth Area
Part 2 Zoning Regulations - Fort Harrison Urban Growth Area
What is the purpose of zoning?
Different States often define zoning differently. Even within Montana, the approach taken by Counties with Part 2 zoning is not completely similar. However, the generally agreed upon purpose of zoning is to address issues such as public health, safety, and general welfare.
On another level, zoning is a tool to implement the strategy set forth in the Lewis and Clark County Growth Policy that specifically calls out the need to focus on five key issues: water, wastewater, roads, fire protection, and flooding.
Possibly, the most important aspect of zoning is to protect, enhance, and stabilize property values. For example, zoning can ensure a mix of uses, such as hog farms, cement batch plants, heavy industrial rail yards, residential neighborhoods, medical marijuana facilities, and daycare centers are not built adjacent to or in close proximity to each other. Zoning can also be very effective at protecting both the existing "character" of a community, as well as the area's natural resources such as water.
Will zoning increase my property taxes?
Property taxes are usually based on land value. Typically, land value comes from its use rather than its zoning classification. For example, land used commercially is generally higher in value than land used residentially. In a commercially zoned area, a supermarket center would most likely have higher property taxes than a mini-storage facility with the same zoning classification/district. Likewise, in a residentially-zoned classification/district, an area of single-family residences might have higher property taxes than an area of multi-family condominiums.
Typically, zoning affects compatibility and neighborhood character. When zoning effectively protects area compatibility, property values may be enhanced through resultant higher priced property sales. As property values increase, property taxes may increase. In short, the value of a property directly affects property taxes.
How will zoning affect my property values?
Zoning tends to stabilize property values, meaning it protects against values going down as much as they may increase. Zoning discourages incompatible uses of land from locating next to one another (hog farm next to residences). It is common to see property values increase with development regulations, rather than the misperception they decrease. Some of the highest valued areas in the United States have strong zoning regulations.
In Montana, there are many examples where higher levels of zoning and development regulation enhanced and stabilized property values. While both the towns of Red Lodge and Bear Creek are next door to one another, Red Lodge has much higher property values and many more layers of development oversight through zoning. Another example is Big Sky, where property values are protected because zoning prevents incompatible uses.
Is zoning restrictive or protective?
This largely depends on individual perspective. A low-density residential zoning classification/district on a quiet, mostly untraveled road in an area primarily comprised of single-family residences, would most likely view residential zoning as protective. The residential zoning could be used against a proposal to place an asphalt batch plant (with very bright lights and strong odors) next to homes.
On the contrary, the owner of the proposed asphalt batch plant might view residential zoning as restrictive. However, appropriate zoning could serve to protect the asphalt batch plant owner and their investment from being harmed by future residential development next to the plant. Often, when this scenario occurs, the new homeowners seek to eliminate the adjacent use they find to be incompatible.
What if I want to develop my property differently from the way it is zoned?
Property owners always have the right to ask the County to change the zoning of a particular parcel. This is called "rezoning." The property owner would file an application to rezone the property to a particular zoning classification/district that would allow the desired use. Typically, the process to rezone land is similar to the process to initially zone the land. Staff would study the impacts of the proposed rezoning to the area, along with its relation to the Growth Policy, and then a public hearing would be held. During the hearing, and as part of the fact-finding process, citizens would have the ability to speak on behalf of, in general about, or in opposition to, the rezoning.
How is Part 1 zoning affected by Part 2 zoning?
There are some areas of Lewis and Clark County where boundaries of more than one Part 1 zoning district and/or Part 2 zoning district intersect. On property where more than one Part 1 zoning district and/or Part 2 Fort Harrison Urban Growth Area Zoning District or Fort Harrison Rural Growth Area Zoning District exist, all regulations are applicable and the more restrictive text will apply. However; on property where a Part 1 zoning district is overlain by the Part 2 Rural Residential Mixed-use Zoning District, Suburban Residential Mixed-use Zoning District, or Urban Residential Mixed-use Zoning District, only the Part 1 zoning regulations will apply, until such time that the Part 1 zoning regulations are eliminated.
What happens to the County zoning classification/district if my land is annexed by a City?
When land is annexed by a City, the County zoning is nullified and the land is zoned according to the City's zoning ordinance.
Are there other land use tools available to protect my property values?
Yes, in addition to zoning, Lewis & Clark County has several "tools" in its Growth Management Toolbox. Some examples include the Subdivision Regulations, Floodplain Ordinance, and Public Works Manual. These documents help ensure development is done in an environmentally sensitive manner, while also protecting the quality of life in an area. Unlike zoning; however, these tools do not allow the County to be fully sensitive to our citizen's desires for particular development patterns in the County.
Does the County zoning control the minimum size or price of houses?
No. The County's zoning regulations do not contain any reference to the size or price of houses.
Does the County zoning allow me to operate a business out of my house?
It depends. Home Occupations are allowed under most zoning classifications/districts as an accessory use. A Home Occupation is any business or activity conducted on the property that is clearly accessory and incidental to the use of the residence for residential purposes. Each permitted accessory use shall be customarily incidental to the principal use established on the same parcel, be subordinate to and serve such principal use, be subordinate in area, extent, and purpose to such principal use, and contribute to the comfort, convenience, or necessity of users of such principal use. Home Occupations must also meet the requirements of Section 16 in the Helena Valley Zoning Regulations for properties zoned Rural, Suburban, and/or Urban Residential Mixed-use, Section 4.3 in the Fort Harrison Rural and Urban Growth Area Zoning Regulations for properties zoned Fort Harrison Rural and/or Urban, and the pertinent section of the Part 1 zoning regulations for properties lying in a Part 1 zoning district(s).
What is a setback?
A setback is the minimum distance a structure on a parcel of land must be from any property line on that land. Setbacks prevent structures from crowding too close together and create a buffer between neighbors. Setbacks also prevent the encroachment of similar or incompatible uses upon one another. Typically, different types of zoning classifications/districts have different setbacks depending upon the purpose of the classification/district.
Does zoning affect lot size?
As the minimum setback between buildings varies from one zoning classification/district to another, the minimum size of individual lots may also be affected. A common belief is that a minimum lot size helps protect property values in a subdivision by ensuring that the lots will have similar characteristics. However, a minimum lot size does not necessarily affect the overall density of proposed developments within a given zoning classification/district.