Montana Department of Transportation

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Research Toolkit

Montana Transportation and Land Use

Growth Policy

Growth Management - Growth Policies

Growth Policy

What is a growth policy?

One of the most straightforward ways to promote growth management at the local level is through growth policies. A growth policy serves as a comprehensive plan to guide decisions about development and public investments. It is implemented through regulatory tools such as design standards and financing tools such as development exactions.

Who can implement it?

Growth policies are typically implemented by city or county planning agencies. Transportation plans or other standalone plans can complement an existing growth policy, or they can serve to establish principles that can be incorporated into a new growth policy.

What are the keys to success and potential pitfalls?

Public Participation: Growth policies and designated growth areas are the result of time intensive public involvement efforts. Because growth policies have a significant impact on the ability to develop private land, a thorough public involvement process is critical in formulating these strategies. Potential controversies can be avoided during the planning stages by carefully designing these strategies to address public, professional, and political concerns. Additionally, it is critical to educate stakeholders about the motivation behind the policy and the mechanisms involved. Backlash from the public is possible without proper planning, and has the potential to sabotage the ability to implement growth policies.

Political Support: Because growth policies have a direct impact on the development potential of private land, they are often contentious in nature. For this reason, implementing growth policies requires significant political support and a productive relationship with landowners and the development community. Most any growth policy will require the buy-in of elected officials, particularly in cases where citizens or other interest groups foresee negative impacts of the strategy.

Analysis: Growth policies require careful analysis prior to implementation, both in terms of stakeholder input and in terms of technical considerations. Unintended effects and implications of the policy need to be assessed. For example, a narrowly defined growth area may push growth towards neighboring jurisdictions. A complex strategy can burden agencies with implementation tasks, while a simple strategy may be vulnerable to legal complications.

Where has this strategy been applied?

Examples in Montana

According to staff at the Montana Department of Commerce Community Technical Assistance Program, 73 municipalities and 46 counties in Montana had either adopted growth policies or were in the process of developing growth policies as of early 2009.

Examples outside of Montana

  • Washington Urban Growth Management Areas: In Washington State, local comprehensive plans are required to address issues of growth management, following the adoption of the Growth Management Act in 1990. Comprehensive plans must 1) designate Urban Growth Areas (UGAs) where new development will be concentrated for the next 20 years, 2) indicate how public infrastructure and services will be phased to accommodate growth within the UGAs, 3) provide transportation and housing strategies for the UGAs, and 4) assess the fiscal impacts of growth.

Case studies

How can I get started?

In urban and fast-growing suburban areas, a first step toward containing urban development would be to identify and adopt general boundaries in the local Growth Policy, followed by the development of regulatory tools and financing tools.

Where can I get more information?