Wednesday, January 20, 2010

An Interesting Repercusion from Missoula's New Title 20 Zoning

Missoula's new Title 20 zoning ordinance hasn't been been in place for very long, but already it is starting to stir up some controversy and play havoc on some people's building plans.

You see, the updated ordinance prohibits garages that extend past the front of a house's facade, such as the one in the photo below. This move essentially limits the type of housing that has been prevalent in America's suburbs since the 1970's. The reason for the new ordinance is an attempt to shape the aesthetics of new construction to fit with Missoula's more historic neighborhoods where a garage is usually in the back facing a alley or non-existent.

Essentially the uproar has come from a builder that was planning a small development. His argument is that the ordinance raises the cost of construction because it is so difficult to find stock architectural plans where the garage doesn't dominate the front of a home that he will be forced to pay an architect to design homes that fit in with the newly updated ordinance and could even force several future projects to fail because of additional costs.

This news came from the city council listserve that our Councilman Bob Jaffe maintains. From the sound of it, no one at that level of local gov't knew of this ordinance and there is already talk of revising the language to make it less restrictive.

Part of the idea behind the zoning update was to make the language simplified and easier to understand, but at the same time to make it easier for more traditional, mixed use and compact development to take place to fit in with the Missoula community's vision of growth and Downtown Master Plan. A component of this vision is our recent passage of a complete streets ordinance.

In my opinion, a house dominated in the front by a garage doesn't add anything to the character of a neighborhood or to the streetscape. And complete streets is about more than just how the roadway is configured, but should also consider the buildings along the street and how they come to make an "outdoor room" and how those buildings interact with the public space (road) out front. A large garage in the front of a house sends a poor signal, both aesthetically and architecturally, while confining the since of public space more so and limiting the interactivity of elements along the streetscape.


Roger said...

The builder has a good point, and builders need all the help they can get right now. Do a web search for, most of the plans have the "car palace" near the street and yes the building code allowed the "car palace" "set back" to be closer to the street than the house.
I agree, the "car palace" needs to be in the back alley with all utilities, as our grandfathers subdivisions are design to save dollars nothing else. New home owners want immediate access to their home from inside the protection of the garage.

CarFree Stupidity said...

I understand the builder's concerns, but the county's job isn't to insure his profits, its to attempt to build a community that is livable and safe.

That is one of the many problems with capitalism... it only cares about costs and profit margins, and not enough about our own humanity.

The fact that new construction, in many cases, is designed to be as cheap as possible is one reason my parent's house is falling apart... and its not even 20 years old.

Mark Kirschner said...

It's likely that the builder already owns plans for the front-facing garaged houses, and doesn't want to change to another set of plans because his ordering and timelines are already based to the plans, and likely his contractors know the plans already.

Based on new construction I see around the Puget Sound area, it's not that difficult to come by house plans with alley-facing garages. There are many homes I've seen with attached, alley-facing garages built in the hasty, build-em cheap, sell 'em for a fortune developments.

Dan said...

I just googled "stock house plans" and the first three that came up did not have front-facing garages. There must be at least a few thousand options out there. In fact, most new development in urban or inner-suburb areas have side-facing or alley-facing garages, and often no garage at all.

Of course, Mark might be right that this builder has already invested in plans, in which case grandfathering this particular development in process seems reasonable.

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