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Wanna weigh in on the rules for Billings bars and casinos? You'll soon get your chance

Public hearings expected in March 2020
Posted at 10:52 PM, Nov 18, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-19 00:52:33-05

BILLINGS — The public will soon have its first opportunity to weigh in on Billings-area regulations on bars and casinos, gaudy street signs and off-street parking, among other zoning rules.

Drafts of revised Billings and Yellowstone County zoning codes will be ready for public hearing in April 2020, city zoning staff told Billings City Council members at a Monday meeting.

The Billings City Planning Division, Yellowstone County officials and 32 community volunteers have been working to revise the zoning regulations in the city and the county, in part to make the regulations easier to understand, and to modernize zoning standards for future development.

The zoning code review is part of Project Re:Code, which started in June 2017. It's the first effort in decades to change the rules to build in the Billings city limits and Yellowstone County.

According to the council meeting agenda, drafts are nearly complete for regulations pertaining to neighborhoods, mixed uses, commercial corridors, heavy commercial, public and instructional districts and landscaping.

“We’re near completion on major parts of the code," said Billings zoning coordinator Nicole Cromwell.

Drafts are still coming together for regulations pertaining to signs, alcohol and gambling uses, planned neighborhood developments and off-street parking. Cromwell said these regulations can be considered hot topics that will draw public attention, namely the alcohol and gambling use regulations.

Before the hot topic regulations are brought to council members and county commissioners for a decision, Project Re:Code staff want to hear public opinion on new proposed regulations separately in a zoning commission meeting.

“We probably want to chop up our zoning commission hearings to be more topic specific," Cromwell said. “It’s such a huge document that it’s not really possible to schedule one public hearing and call it good. We want to make sure that people have the opportunity to come to a zoning commission hearing and know that they can talk about what’s important to them."

Cromwell said zoning commission meetings to hear from the public will wrap up in March 2020. The drafted regulations are planned to be brought before the city council and county commissioners in April 2020.

Part of the project includes re-drawing boundaries of zoning district, such as residential, commercial and industrial. Different districts have different building rules and regulations.

According to the project web site, the districts are being changed "to better reflect the existing character of Billings and Yellowstone County neighborhoods and the desired character for commercial areas."

The new districts are designed with the hope of providing better guidance about how new development fits into the community.

Project Re:Code staff have built a map to compare how any one property in the city or county will be affected by proposed code changes.

Project Re:Code came about after Billings, Yellowstone County, and Lockwood revised their growth policies and priorities over the past few years. Project Re:Code seeks to change the zoning regulations to better reflect the new policies and priorities.