By Michael Howell
Under pressure from the state to adopt a new land use review process applicable to buildings for lease or rent by September 1, 2013, the County Commissioners did just that last Friday, August 31. The legislation set forth a set of definitions, regulations and a review process that grandfathers in up to three existing buildings for rent or lease on any property that were in place or under construction at the time the law was passed. It also allows up to three new buildings for rent or lease without review, if desired. The county may add more regulations to the review process for approving new buildings for rent or lease, but it cannot add more types of exemptions. It can increase the number of exceptions of certain types allowed.
All new buildings that include water and wastewater facilities must undergo sanitation review prior to installation. If they are not for rent or lease the landowner may file a certificate with the Clerk and Recorder stating that the building will not be rented or leased and be exempted from review.
Planning Department Administrator Terry Nelson told the Commissioners that several counties had adopted variations of the law. He said each county differs in what they allow in terms of numbers, and what they exempt. He said a few counties are putting forth regulations that may not meet state law and could lead to legal action. He said the county needs to consider whether it wants to be in the lead on those challenges to the law or try to stay out of the fray. Nelson called it a “can of worms,” and recommended staying out of the fray and adopting the Montana Association of Counties (MACo) recommendations for regulations.
The commissioners discussed at length the definition of “building” included in the law. Nelson said that it is a unique definition and has raised a lot of questions among counties as to what it really means and how it would apply.
Building is defined as “a structure or a unit of a structure with a roof supported by columns or walls for the permanent or temporary housing or enclosure of persons or property or for the operation of a business.” It includes a recreational camping vehicle, mobile home or cell tower, but it does not include a condominium or townhome.
There was some question as to whether it applies to post office boxes, athletic club lockers, kennels and other things. Nelson said that many counties were confused by the law and that it would most probably be tweaked by the legislature in future sessions.
The regulations adopted Friday exempt from the review process any buildings without water or sewer facilities that are in conformance with applicable zoning regulations, are one of three buildings for rent or lease already existing or under construction by September 1, 2013, any facility that will fall under the state’s Bed Tax program (except for recreational camping vehicles and mobile home parks), and any building for agricultural or farming purposes.
Buildings with water and sewer facilities that are exempted from the review process include the same exceptions plus an exception for buildings where the landowner has recorded a notarized declaration that the building will not be rented or leased. These exceptions must still undergo sanitation review, however.
Up to three new buildings for rent or lease may be constructed but must undergo the review process for building for rent or lease approval. There is also an appeals process included in the regulations if the landowner disagrees with the county’s determination.