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Week 1 of the 68th Montana Legislative Session is in the books and Week 2 is under way. At this point of the session there are not a lot of bill drafts yet, but they will be coming. In the past I sent these updates out on Friday, but with my schedule this year I think Monday is going to work better.

There are three bills at the top of our list with hearings this week.

SB 130 – Allow for a county consolidated land use board

Hearing 1/11/23 (S) Local Government 3pm Room 405


This bill would allow counties to consolidate their planning board, zoning commission (if they have one), and BOA into one board. It does not include the Part I Zoning Commission.

Both large and small jurisdictions have issues with filling these volunteer boards and this bill will make that easier. We like that the bill provides for efficiencies in the development process without mandates.  We would like this bill to go further and include cities and Part I Zoning Commissions.  There is an amendment to add cities, and we will support that amendment.

SB 131 – Revise exempt subdivision review timelines

Hearing 1/11/23 (S) Local Government 3pm Room 405


This bill would require a 20-working day timeframe to process exemptions. The clock would start at the receipt of a complete application and fee. A complete application is intended to include surveyor review and errors and omissions.  The bill will also prevent local governments from requiring conditions of approval for exemptions. The bill is intending to address some issues that are reportedly occurring sporadically across the state with exemptions taking many, many months to be approved, and being approved with conditions attached. Overall, we believe the timeframes are reasonable if a bit tight. We also believe that exemptions are exempt from review of impacts and therefore conditions of approval should not be apart of the decision.

HB 211 – Revise the local subdivision review process

Hearing likely on 1/12/23 (H) Local Government 3pm Room 472


This bill is doing three things related to subdivisions. It effects:

How to handle new information and subsequent hearings (76-3-615)

When a hearing is needed for final plats in phased subdivisions (76-3-617)

How to handle variances during an expedited review (76-3-623)

76–3-615 Subsequent hearings

This change focuses specifically how to handle new information. The changes to this section would expand the circumstances in which new information would not trigger a subsequent hearing, to include changes to the design of the subdivision do not materially impact the analysis of potentially significant adverse impacts. If new information results in a material change affecting a proposed finding of fact or a proposed condition, it would trigger a subsequent hearing.

76-3-617 Phased subdivisions

The changes to this section focus on what to do when phases come in for final plat approval. It clarifies that a public hearing is not needed if a phase comes in within 5 years of the preliminary plat approval. If also clarifies that when a phase does require a public hearing, that the governing body can amend or impose conditions when new information or changes in circumstances trigger the need for mitigation. Both of these changes are to clarify the original intent of the phasing bill.

76-3-623 Expedited review

Last session a process was created for expedited review of certain subdivisions. If a subdivision needed a variance from the subdivision design standards, it would not qualify. The feedback Montana Association of Realtors collected was most subdivisions request a variance to one or more standards. Therefore, this process was not being used. This proposal would allow for variance requests. If a variance was requested, it would extend the review period. There are two other minor changes, the first would expand the use of this bill in counties to expand the types of water and sewer system that would qualify, and it would clarify that this process is required in cities, but not in counties, regardless of if the local subdivision regulations include the process.

As of today, we are drafting our reasons why we are supporting the bill. The gist is the first two components of the bill are easy to support. The third component on expedited review is more complicated. Check our legislative tracker later this week for more information.