Livingston Planning Board Reverses it’s 2022 Recommendation to Deny the Mountain View Commercial Subdivision

Controversial project goes to City Commission for decision in test of the City’s commitment to its 2021 anti-sprawl Growth Policy.

At a special meeting on August 30, the Livingston Planning Board voted 5 to 3 to recommend that the City Commission approve the proposed Mountain View commercial subdivision at the western I-90 interchange.

This was a reversal of the recommendation, approved 6-2 by the Planning Board in September 2022, to recommend denial of an almost identical version of this subdivision.

The proposed Mountain View subdivision would divide 44 acres of land at the western I-90 Interchange near the Printing for Less plant, into 24 new lots, 22 of which could be developed for “highway commercial” uses.  A wetland, where development is prohibited by law, would be divided into two parcels separated by a road and donated to the City for use as a park or open space. See “overall development plan” maps below.

“Highway Commercial” zoning allows motels, restaurants, gas stations, convenience stores and RV parks, exactly the same kind of ugly commercial sprawl that defaces most freeway entrances to cities in Montana.

That zoning also allows professional office buildings, condos, hotels, furniture stores, beauty salons and taverns – businesses that should be part of the historic downtown. And that is not the full list – “highway commercial” also allows churches, mortuaries, radio stations, veterinary clinics, warehouses, and light industrial manufacturing.

Friends of Park County favors allowing light industrial, warehouse and transportation facilities, uses consistent with the original zoning of the property.

At the Planning Board’s regular August 16 meeting, Friends of Park County testified against the proposal. We noted that the new subdivision proposal suffered from all the same defects that led the Planning Board to recommend denial and for the City Commission to deny the application in 2022.

Those defects included inconsistency with key provisions in the Growth Policy that favor compact and contiguous growth, focusing new development in the downtown and creating an attractive gateway to the City.  FPC predicted that if this subdivision was approved and developed on this island of city land, it would lead inevitably to calls to annex the intervening land, allowing yet more sprawl.

Other grounds for denial included risks to public health, safety and wildlife.  (You can read FPC’s 2022 testimony here and its 2023 testimony here.)

At the August 30 meeting, Planning Board members Torrey Lyons (a member of the City Commission), Jessie Wilcox, and Jim Barrett voted against recommending approval.  Planning Board chair Stacey Jovick and members Taya Cromley (who also serves on the County Planning Board), Mija Hamilton, Shannon Holmes (the City’s Director of Public Works), and Amy Schilling voted to recommend approval.  Board member Jonathan Hettinger was absent.

Planning Board member Wilcox, who voted to recommend denial of the subdivision in 2022, explained her continued opposition to the second version of the project, based on risks to public health and safety and impacts on natural resources and wildlife.

Wilcox explained that when the rezoning of the property from Light Industrial to Highway Commercial was approved in 2018, it may have been done under the assumption that City voters were about to approve funding for additional emergency services and an overpass over the rail line to safely connect the north side of town.  These steps would have provided additional protections and an evacuation route in the event I-90 was closed due to a fire or a derailment.

Above: Fire after derailment of a Union Pacific train carrying oil, next to Interstate 84 and the Columbia River in the small city of Mosier, Oregon, June 3, 2016. (Photo KGW TV.)

Above: Fire after derailment of a Union Pacific train carrying oil, next to Interstate 84 and the Columbia River in the small city of Mosier, Oregon, June 3, 2016. (Photo KGW TV.)

Wilcox also mentioned that range fires in Montana were occurring even in the winter now.  She also referenced potential harm to the wetland and wildlife habitat as other grounds for her opposition.

The Mountain View Subdivision will be considered by the City Commission in coming weeks.  Friends of Park County will continue to advocate for denying this application but allowing for other appropriate uses of the property.

The saga of the Mountain View subdivision is another illustration of the problems caused by delays in implementing the Growth Policy, which was adopted 28 months ago, and in addressing lingering internal inconsistencies and conflicts in the Growth Policy.  (See Friends’ 2023 testimony on that subject.)