There are numerous ‘islands’ of county zoned property within City of Bozeman borders. This has been a discussion on and off for year.
Bozeman commissioners take next steps on county-island annexations
By Nora Shelly Chronicle Staff Writer May 11, 2022
Bozeman commissioners this week took a step in the process to initiate annexation of the pockets of county land that sit within city limits.
The city has dozens of county “islands,” or parcels of land that are entirely surrounded by Bozeman city limits. Though the city’s policy has been to rely on landowner-initiated annexations — which are often sought out by people looking to get hooked up to the city water or sewer systems — the city is in the process of establishing ways to initiate annexations itself.
Commissioners voted on Tuesday to approve a set of policies laying out the basic plan to accomplish future annexations.
The “extension of services plan” is a framework through which the city can enact annexations of county islands and includes policies for things like how public engagement should work for each specific annexation and how to determine whether the facilities within the specific parcel are adequate.
From the city’s viewpoint, having county islands is a health concern, as aging well and septic systems on buildings not hooked up to the city’s utilities can pose environmental hazards.
The city has also pointed to an issue of tax fairness, as residents in county islands use much of the same infrastructure as their neighbors without paying city taxes, and of consistency, since things like city noise ordinances or development codes don’t apply in county islands but do apply at properties in the city that are down the street.
Neither the extension of services plan nor the commission’s vote on Tuesday annex any properties. The commission also did not discuss any specific areas for annexation.
While the extension of services plan would apply generally to any future annexations of county islands, City Attorney Greg Sullivan said the city would be required to develop a specific plan addressing the nuances of a particular area when proposing annexation.“This document alone is not enough; it needs the area plan with it,” Sullivan said.Much of the extension of services plan is guided by state law, which requires the city to determine whether the facilities in a given area — like roads or wastewater systems — are adequate.
The city could determine an area has adequate facilities, so no work would be needed to ensure a basic level of city service (for example, having a road wide enough for a city fire truck to fit down).An area with adequate facilities could be annexed outright by the city — state law doesn’t give residents or property owners a choice to oppose this, Sullivan said.
But for areas where facilities are determined to be inadequate, Sullivan said the city would have to develop a capital plan about what work would need to be done.
Residents would then be able to vote on the capital plan, and if the vote fails, state law prohibits the city from annexing the property.
Sullivan said the city recognizes that some areas are not built up to the same standards the city may have today but that each area would be analyzed on a case-by-case basis.
“Adequacy does not mean the same as complying with existing current standards for new development,” Sullivan said.
Before any annexations could happen, city staff has to undertake a lot of technical work that was put aside at the beginning of the pandemic, Sullivan said, and develop criteria for how to prioritize areas for annexation.
If the commission approves the criteria, the city would then make a prioritized list of areas to annex, Sullivan said. The city is also planning to develop incentives to entice landowners or neighborhoods to volunteer for annexation.
City commissioners voted unanimously in support of the extension of services plan. Deputy Mayor Terry Cunningham proposed an amendment that was unanimously adopted to add in a line that the city would consider its affordable housing plans and policies when making annexation decisions.