City-County building in Helena

The City/County Building on North Park Avenue in Helena.

On Monday night, the Helena City Commission gave initial approval to a suite of zoning changes in the downtown area. 

If final approval is granted in October, nine disparate zones will be combined into two: the downtown zone, and the transitional residential zone that includes homes and businesses right outside the downtown core. 

The downtown district is "intended to bring renewed vitality to the city of Helena's historic downtown core," while the transitional residential district surrounding the downtown district is intended to act as a "buffer" between the downtown area and the residential areas that surround it, commission documents state.

The affected area stretches from Reeder’s Alley on the south side of Helena’s downtown all the way to the Great Northern Town Center near Euclid Avenue, generally following Last Chance Gulch. 

The commission decided not to include an area on the west side of downtown between Logan Street, Eleventh Avenue, Jackson Street and Thirteenth Street. Another small area behind the City-County building was also denied the new zoning. 

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The changes are part of an ongoing update to city zoning, which is meant to encourage new mixed-use development downtown. City officials believe mixed-use areas will improve neighborhoods by providing places for people to work and recreate, and they hope it will minimize sprawl downtown. 

According to a presentation by Helena city planners, the new zones will “conserve the value of buildings and encourage the most appropriate use of land throughout the jurisdictional area.”

Sharon Haugen, the director of the city’s community development department, said the impact of the changes wouldn’t be truly seen for some time.

“It takes a good two years to understand how people are using it,” Haugen said about the zoning changes.

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