Seeley Swan Pathfinder -

By Henry Netherland

Ovando residents discuss zoning possibilities with Powell County


August 5, 2021

Henry Netherland, Pathfinder

Powell County Planning Director Scott Hazelton responds to Ovando residents' comments and questions during an open house in the Ovando School gym Thursday, July 30. The discussion was over whether or not the community should consider decreasing the town's minimum developmental acreage from one to ½ acre to allow for more potential housing. The map shows properties that could be potentially subdivided and other areas that cannot.

OVANDO - Ovando residents came together in the Ovando School gym Thursday, July 30 to discuss whether the community should decrease the minimum developmental acreage from one to ½ acre in order to allow for more potential housing. Powell County Planning Director Scott Hazelton led the presentation and facilitated the discussion. Overall the community did not support the idea of smaller lot size but was interested in adding other zoning parameters. 

Hazelton said Powell County's motivation behind the proposed change is to provide housing opportunities for new potential residents to maintain the longevity of communities.

While he has not received any formal subdivision or developmental requests, he has received some inquiries. He could not say where these developments would potentially happen and that the locations would be entirely dependent on the landowners making the proposal.

Before any developments can take place, proposals must first be approved by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and Tri-County Sanitarian. Proposed properties have to pass a percolation test and have an initial and backup drain field along with a well and backup well on any proposed parcel. The wells must also show that they have sufficient supply and do not impact other wells. Septic systems and wells must be at least 100 feet apart from each other.

Hazelton said a property owner almost needs "a perfect bit of ground" to meet all of the DEQ and sanitarian requirements.

According to him, because of sewage, wells, parkland dedication and roadways, subdivided property would not fit homesites and acres on a 1:1 ratio. He estimates that with the current zoning in place, a 20-acre lot could fit 17 properties. If the minimum acreage was cut in half, the lot could potentially fit around 30 homesites.

Hazelton said they have a variance process in place to be adaptable for properties that are less than two acres. By reducing the minimum acreage it could make the subdivision process more flexible for smaller property owners.

These potential new zoning regulations would just apply to the Ovando boundaries and not other adjacent communities. Hazelton is holding similar meetings in towns like Helmsville however. This change also does not apply to the 160-acre minimum zoning regulations outside the Ovando and Helmville limits.

One attendee said he took issue with the assertion that the longevity of Ovando is dependent upon more housing.

"I don't quite understand how you've come to that conclusion," he said. 

Hazelton responded that potential new developments could provide easier access for younger people to live within the town sites.

"If we're just hoping that as people die out, new people move in, that's rolling the dice further down the road," he said. "People are living longer, so we're waiting and then we have nobody to take care of facilities, we don't have young people to work jobs."

Another attendee questioned the purpose of the meeting altogether and had concerns about over-development.

"This community will never ever be the same ever," he said. "You're talking about 7-11s, you're talking about gas stations, you're talking about roads that can't handle this influx, your whole infrastructure will collapse. ... Everything will change. ... Why should we care whether we provide housing for somebody?"

A different resident responded that this was just an initial discussion to get an idea of the community's interests.

"[Hazelton is] looking for input as to whether or not you'd want to do this," he said. "I'm involved in two businesses in town and we're ... short on places for them to live. ... If somebody else were to build a house, we need to have places for the employees to live."

When responding to a question, Hazelton stated that there are no developmental height restrictions within Ovando.

Towards the end of the meeting he held an informal hand poll to gauge the community's response to the proposal. The vast majority of attendees voted in favor of keeping the one acre minimum but many also were in favor of establishing a height restriction and other zoning parameters to the current standard.

This community interest means that Hazelton will schedule two follow-up meetings in the proceeding months to gauge the community's goals. Although not yet confirmed, the next meeting will likely take place around the last week of September. He plans to return with a proposal document at the next meeting to show what the proposed terms would be. Residents also requested that he provide case studies for towns of similar size so residents can have something comparable to look at.

He wanted to make it known that the subdivision process is public and that all adjacent landowners would be notified of any proposed changes two or three weeks in advance of the public hearing. Notices would be put in The Pathfinder, the Silver State Post and via community emails.

Those unable to attend a future meeting have the option of emailing or calling Hazelton directly. He will also consider sending out a Zoom link in preparation for the meeting.

Hazelton can be reached for question or comment at or 406-475-2969.


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