Promise and Peril in the Draft Livingston PUDO

Higher density residential development for lands designated for protection as Natural Areas, Parks and Recreation in the Growth Policy, but also the potential for affordable housing.


And what the heck is a “PUDO?”

Livingston staff is drafting a Planned Unit Development (PUD) ordinance (“PUDO”). There are some promising elements in the draft PUD ordinance – developments with more open space and affordable housing.  But there is also peril – the ordinance could be used to allow residential development in areas near the Yellowstone River designated as “Natural Areas” and “Parks and Recreation” in the City’s 2021 Growth Policy.

First some background on Planned Unit Developments – PUDs.

What are PUDs?

PUDs are development projects consisting of many buildings and other improvements proposed and developed together.  For example, a PUD might consist of a complex of single-family homes, apartment buildings, a shopping center, along with a school, roads, parks and other amenities over several acres.

Rather than having each building and each improvement considered and permitted separately and incrementally – the entire plan is reviewed and a decision made on the entire PUD proposal.

PUD ordinances are usually written to allow more flexibility around meeting various zoning requirements.  For example, a PUD might allow for deviations from density or height limits, or a different allocation of open space. The idea is that this flexibility may allow for more creative and productive types of development.

The first draft of the Livingston PUD ordinance included provisions allowing a 10% increase in residential density in exchange for the provision of dwellings that are made affordable to households earning about $52,000 or less. Additional residential density would also be allowed in exchange for an increase in the amount of open space included in the development.

FPC endorsed concepts in the draft and recommended allowing additional density in exchange for protecting rural lands outside the city limits.

Friends of Park County (FPC) testified in support of the concept at the September 5 City Commission meeting, while sharing doubts expressed by many others that the incentives were not strong enough to result in the construction of any affordable housing units.

FPC also urged adding the adoption of conservation easements in the rural area around the city (the Extraterritorial Jurisdiction) as another basis for entitlement to additional residential density. This would help implement the Pastoral/Open Space land use designation for these lands in the Growth Policy.

Other comments offered by FPC encouraged the use of clear and objective criteria in the ordinance, to ease administration, ensure transparency and fairness to all parties, and help deliver the desired outcomes.

However, the draft PUD Ordinance would facilitate development in areas near the Yellowstone River which the 2021 Growth Policy designated as Natural Areas and Park and Recreation.

During the staff presentation on September 5, a map was shown of the areas in the city with parcels of ½ and 1 acre or larger where the PUD ordinance could be used. The largest vacant parcels were in the areas currently zoned RI (also called R1) and RIII (also called R3) southeast of the Yellowstone River, outlined in red on this zoning map:

The RI/R1 zone is described on the zoning map as “LOW DENSITY RESIDENTIAL: A single family residence district with a large plat area required and including customary residential accessory uses”.  The RIII/R3 zone is described as “HIGH DENSITY RESIDENTIAL: A residential classification intended to provide adequate sites for multi-family developments including condominiums and rowhouses”.

The 2021 Growth Policy includes a Future Land Use Map, showing how lands are to be used when the Growth Policy is implemented.  The areas outlined in green on the zoning map are shown on the Future Land Use Map as “Natural/Open Space” and “Parks and Rec.”:

The area of the Heart K Ranch inside the City limits (the land northeast of the city center and between the railroad tracks and the River) was originally part of a development concept and development agreement that anticipated 876 dwellings and a commercial district three-quarters the size of downtown.

During the development of the Growth Policy in early 2021, the Planning Board voted to change the land use designation of that land to “Parks and Rec.” That motion was passed and the Park and Rec. designation on the Future Land Use Map was approved as part of the Growth Policy by the City Commission in May 2021.

Later in 2021, the city staff proposed renewing the development agreement for that property, a position opposed by FPC and the Park County Environmental Council.

As reported in FPC’s October 2021 update to our supporters, at its September 21, 2021 meeting, the City Commission unanimously rejected a proposal to allow the transfer of development rights to new owners in order to allow the development to proceed.

However, the old zoning for that development has been left unchanged for more than two years after the adoption of the Growth Policy and now the densities could be increased through the PUD ordinance, instead of protecting the land as promised in the Growth Policy.

There is no need for a “trade-off”: There is more than enough land for more housing, affordable and market rate, outside areas the Growth Policy said are to be protected as natural areas and for parks and recreation.

Is there enough land outside those areas designated for conservation under the Growth Policy to allow the PUD ordinance (as refined) to work and possibly generate some affordable housing?

Absolutely. Two years ago, FPC showed that the City had more than enough land to accommodate a 50% increase in population – and without considering infill, redevelopment or changes in allowable density.

Given that the City is anticipating changing the zoning ordinance to reflect the Growth Policy next year as part of the zoning code revisions, the PUD ordinance should only apply to those zones which are consistent with the Growth Policy’s Future Land Use Map.  Alternatively, the good provisions in the draft PUD ordinance could be thoughtfully integrated into the comprehensive update of the zoning ordinance.

If that is accomplished, then Livingston can enjoy the promises without the perils.