Libby to Rezone Downtown Area

Officials hope designating downtown as its own business district will spur development

By Justin Franz
Downtown Libby on Jan. 10, 2019. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

After a year of work, the City of Libby is expected to create a new downtown business district that officials hope will spur development in the heart of the Northwest Montana community.

City council and planning board member Kristin Smith said the newly formed zoning board would review the draft of the downtown business district regulations at a meeting on Feb. 10. Afterwards, the plan will go before the city council.

The zoning board was created last year when the Libby City Attorney discovered a decades-old legal opinion stating that a town of Libby’s size could not have a joint zoning and planning board. In order to ensure legality, the city created a separate zoning board made up of members of the planning board, Smith said. Since the planning board and the zoning board have the same members, Smith said it is unlikely there will be any more changes to the draft before it gets to the city council.

“We wanted to dot our I’s and cross our T’s to make sure everything was legit,” she said. “It has been a robust public process and we’re excited to finally get something passed.”

The effort to separate the downtown area from Libby’s pre-existing commercial zone, which includes the area along U.S. Highway 2, began back in 2018. The new rules would prohibit the construction of adult bookstores, mobile home dealerships, cell towers and storage faculties in the downtown area. It would ask that downtown business owners maintain their façades and limit the type of fencing that can be constructed. Any portion of a building façade facing Mineral or California avenues that is longer than 25 feet in length must incorporate windows or other architectural design elements to break up the wall. Certain types of building materials, like non-decorative concrete blocks and plywood, have been prohibited from use on façades as well.

Smith, who also owns Cabinet Mountain Brewing Co., said she believes it’s important to put standards in place now before major development occurs downtown.

“I feel like we’re really on the cusp of breaking out here in Libby, and if we don’t have standards in place now it will be really hard to implement them later,” she said.

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