Bozeman’s City Commission took some steps recently to help clarify and ease issues with the building code.
DC: Bozeman City Commission approves building code changes they hope will speed up development
By Nora Shelly Chronicle Staff Writer May 13, 2021
Bozeman took steps this week it hopes will clear up the city’s building code and make construction more efficient in some cases.
Bozeman’s building code is often described as onerous, confusing and lengthy. Several changes to the code preliminarily approved by city commissioners during a meeting Tuesday are part of a larger city effort to address issues with the code — Bozeman hired a consultant earlier this year to audit the code with a focus on creating and preserving affordable housing.
The audit is still ongoing, but city commissioners approved two ordinances related to the code on Tuesday in a first vote.
One change reviewed Tuesday will allow for broader use of concurrent construction for development projects and the infrastructure required for them.
Bozeman’s codes as written now allow for concurrent construction in only some developments, Kelley Rischke, assistant city attorney, said during Tuesday’s meeting.
“Staff often hears about the need to expedite reviews, and speed the development process because the amount of interest a developer might pay per day on a loan can be very high,” Rischke said. “By providing an avenue to construct infrastructure and buildings at the same time, it may reduce the cost of interest to the developer, which may in turn make the homes or commercial spaces more affordable.”
The ordinance also cleans up some code language and also requires developers to build sidewalks on a shorter timeline than now allowed.
A second ordinance approved by the commissioners this week makes several changes to the code, including raising the allowed building height in some zoning districts in line with changing construction industry standards and allowing for an additional story in two zoning districts.
“These changes are intended to modernize the (unified development code) and make the higher quality buildings more feasible,” Assistant City Planner Jacob Miller said.
Both ordinances were approved on a 4-1 vote, with Commissioner Christopher Coburn voting against both.
Coburn questioned why the code changes weren’t more tied to affordable housing, rather than just housing in general.
“We do have a housing crisis at most levels of housing but I think it’s acutely experienced for folks who are lower income who are really having a hard time or being priced out of our community,” Coburn said. “And so I would love to see these sorts of tools used in a more pointed and strategic way to really get at the biggest need for housing, which is folks who are lower income.”
City Manager Jeff Mihelich said increasing supply across the spectrum is necessary.
“We have a housing crisis, not only at the affordable levels, but I’d argue in many levels in the community, so I wouldn’t recommend that we use concurrent construction as a carrot or an incentive for just affordable housing,” Mihelich said. “I think it should be done for all housing projects for us to build up that supply, which in turn will then lower the price so it does have a positive impact on affordable housing.”