Frequently Asked Questions

ABZ's of Zoning (PDF)

  • Zoning exists throughout the United States. In Montana, Counties often have two types of Zoning, Part 1 and Part 2. Part 1 is referred to as “citizen-initiated zoning,” while Part 2 is referred to as “County-initiated zoning.” Nearby Counties with Part 2 Zoning include Cascade, Powell, Jefferson, Missoula and Gallatin, among others.

    Zoning can take on many different looks, including:

    Traditional (or Euclidean): Focuses on the type of use allowed on the land, such as residential, multi-family, commercial and industrial. In Montana, Traditional Zoning is most common.

    Form Based: Focuses on building form as it relates to streetscape and adjacent uses. For example, in a largely suburban single-family residential area, offices, retail or even light industrial use could allowed as long as it conformed (setback, building size, lot coverage, height, etc.) to existing development in the area.

    Mixed Use: Provides for enhanced flexibility where the landowner has the right to choose a variety of specific uses, such as commercial, industrial, institutional, parks, residential, etc. However, an individual property can also be limited to particular uses.

    Performance Based: Based on measurable performance standards that regulate the design and location of a use based on the characteristic of a particular site to support development. For example, wetlands, floodplains or steep slopes may be protected from development on a piece of property, while residential development may be allowed on other parts of the same property.

     

     

     

  • 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 (https://www.lccountymt.gov/cdp/county-growth-policy.html) 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 Zoning classification. For example, land used commercially is generally higher 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. Likewise, in a residential zone district, an area of single-family homes 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 residential homes). 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 zone district on a quiet, mostly untraveled road in an area made up primarily of single-family homes would most likely view residential Zoning as protective. The residential Zoning could be used against a proposal for an asphalt batch plant (with very bright lights and strong odors), next to homes.

    On the other side, the owner of the proposed 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 may find incompatible. This scenario has played out in Montana using Part 1 Zoning.

  • 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 zone 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 likely be required. At the hearing and as part of the fact finding process for the County Commissioners, citizens would have the ability to speak on behalf of, or in opposition to, the rezoning.

  • How would existing Part-1 Zoning be affected by County-Initiated Part-2 Zoning?

    County-initiated Part-2 Zoning would be a layer of Zoning in addition to existing Part-1 Zoning. Both layers would usually apply unless a conflict existed, in which case the more restrictive regulation would apply. 

    As an example of how a conflict could be handled, let’s look at “Clustering”. The concept of clustering focuses more on the total number of lots allowed on a parcel, as opposed to the minimum lot size of each lot. 

    For instance, let’s say existing Part-1 Zoning sets the minimum lot size at 10 acres and the Part-2 Zoning allows for a much smaller minimum lot size, but with a 10-acre density (as opposed to minimum lot size.) As described above, the Part-1 Zoning would be more restrictive and therefore all lots would need to be at least 10 acres in size. 

    The graph below represents the Part-1 scenario where every lot must be at least 10 acres in size. If your land is 100 acres, you may divide it into a maximum of 10 lots with each lot being 10 acres in size.  

     

    However, in clustering the lots, Zoning would be density-focused, as opposed to minimum lot size. 

    Each lot may be a different size and need not be at least 10 acres. This density approach creates more options and can be more environmentally sensitive by allowing avoidance of certain areas like floodplains or wetlands. The clustered density approach can be much more cost effective by allowing the amount of infrastructure reduced to the actual area of buildable lots. Additionally, the minimum lot size may be determined by environmental factors as regulated by the State Department of Environmental Quality.  

    The next graphic represents how your project might look if your lots were clustered.

     

     

     

  • What happens to the County Zoning classification 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 Subdivision Regulations, Floodplain Regulations, and Roadway Standards. These are to ensure development is done in an environmentally sensitive manner while also protecting the quality of life in an area.

    Unlike Zoning, these tools do not allow the County to be fully sensitive to our Citizen’s desires for particular development patterns in the County. Our Citizens have spoken clearly as to their expectations and desires as set forth in the County Growth Policy. By far, the best tool to effectively implement the County Growth Policy (especially the Helena Valley Area Plan) is a comprehensive, County-Initiated Part -2 Zoning program throughout the Helena Valley. 

  • Would the County Zoning control the minimum size or price of houses?

    No. The County’s zoning regulations would not contain any reference to the size or price of houses. 

  • Would the County Zoning allow me to operate a business out of my house?

    Commonly referred to as Home Occupations, most zoning regulations allow for this type of land use.  Home occupations need to be clearly incidental to, and not alter, the character of the residential area for the primary use. It is common for a zoning code to allow for several different levels or types of home occupations.  Some common benefits of home occupations are reduced vehicle trips traveled per day and less traffic congestion, especially during peak demand times.  

  • What is a setback?

    A setback is the minimum distance structures 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 districts would have different setbacks depending upon the purpose of the district.

  • Does Zoning affect lot size?

    As the minimum setback between buildings varies from one zoning district to another, the minimum size of individual lots may also be affected. A common belief is that 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 zone district.   

  • How many Counties in Montana have Part-2 (County Initiated) Zoning?


    At last count, there were 14 Counties with Zoning. Of the 14 Counties with County-Initiated Zoning, two are the Consolidated Governments of Butte-Silver Bow and Anaconda-Deer Lodge. The other 12 zoned Counties are: Cascade, Chouteau, Daniels, Flathead, Gallatin, Granite, Jefferson, Lake, Missoula, Park, Powell, and Yellowstone. With 25% of the State Counties zoned, it is clear that County-Initiated Zoning is neither a new, nor an unconstitutional concept within the State of Montana.
    When people ask why they should not feel uncomfortable with county Zoning, the most common answers are that Zoning is not new and that it serves to protect, enhance and stabilize property values. In areas without zoning, a common and regular source of concern is the impacts associated with land development such as the five key issues identified in the 2015 Helena Valley Growth Policy: roads, water, wastewater, fire, and floods. Additional concerns include the unregulated mix of uses within a given area. The citizens of the County have voiced their concerns that these sorts of impacts are simply not acceptable, at times even offensive, and potentially hazardous.