Authorities Deliberate on Grants to Establish Housing in Downtown Areas
At a recent Urban Renewal Agency board meeting, key city figures came together to discuss strategies for developing vacant spaces within Montana City’s downtown. They are particularly keen to solicit ideas from local residents and business owners, echoing the city’s intent to foster a community-led development approach. Simultaneously, a zoning ordinance that would permit diverse housing types in neighborhoods is underway.
The board members deliberated on the prospect of presenting grants to downtown property owners, aiming to stimulate the conversion of unoccupied spaces into residential units. There was unanimous consent to sustain the existing building façade grant.
Board member and City Commissioner, Quentin Schwarz, praised the grant’s impact, stating, “It’s made a significant transformation downtown.” The board expressed an inclination towards encouraging affordable or workforce housing, with all members endorsing the concept.
City Manager Grant Gager suggested incorporating an affordable housing stipulation into the review process, “is the project creating affordable units or market-grade units?” he proposed. The consensus was that grants should prioritize projects that would otherwise be impossible to carry out without such assistance, such as those deemed ineligible for bank loans.
It is expected that city staff will deliver proposed criteria for grant applications for review at the upcoming board meeting. The aspiration is to commence the program by early April.
During a City Commission meeting held in early February, the issue of vacant living spaces in downtown buildings emerged. Gager estimated around 50 to 70 such spaces exist, primarily on the second and third floors of downtown buildings. He suggested, “Those are the most cost-effective housing units to create, and so they need to be brought back into use.”
Not all are in favor of the affordable housing plan. Patricia Grabow, President of the Livingston Downtown Building Owners and Business Association, stated that “Affordable housing on the second floor of downtown will not pencil out.” According to her, the conversion of downtown spaces should primarily focus on commercial activity. Creating affordable housing downtown, she believes, would primarily attract people from Bozeman, leaving locals at a disadvantage.
She mentioned the high heating costs and skyrocketing costs make low rents impractical. “Our costs have skyrocketed, and what I am an advocate for is a multi-use building — it won’t survive in any other form in the commercial market,” she told the board.
Following these discussions, officials plan to hold a public hearing or town hall meeting, although a date has not yet been set. They will invite property owners and residents to share their views on the issue.
Additionally, the Livingston City Planning Board is exploring an update to the zoning code to allow planned unit developments (PUDs). These would give property owners more flexibility in terms of land use than the current zoning code permits. The creation of a PUD ordinance is underway, with a literature review of existing PUD ordinances from three similar cities, Kalispell, Columbia Falls, and Hardin, to be presented at the next board meeting. The eventual update of the zoning code is expected to take roughly a year, incorporating public outreach and the input of a consulting specialist.