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Montana Master Planned Communities

Master Planned Communities: What They Are and Where They Are in Montana

Master planned communities are large-scale residential developments that focus on offering residents a cohesive lifestyle. In general, they offer a wider range of housing types and prices. They also offer a broader range of amenities than traditional subdivisions. 

A “master developer” typically purchases a large parcel of land. Then, they segment the land into areas for different types of development. A typical master planned community might include single-family homes on large lots, townhomes, apartments, a community center, and a commercial center.

Once the plan is in place, the developer sells off parcels to builders who specialize in the type of use that is planned for the site. Typically master planned communities are built in phases. Most of the time they build out from the lowest density to the highest density, finishing out with commercial uses as the newly built homes are needed to support the retail and office uses.

These types of communities are popping up across Montana’s growing cities.

In Bozeman, Gallatin Heights and The Lakes at Valley West combine a variety of home types with ample open space and walking trails. The more ambitious Highlands in Bozeman will mix residential, senior housing, and a village-style shopping center with a medical center. 

Cardwell Ranch in Billings is a 475-acre mixed-use community that will offer a full mix of residential, office, and retail uses, set alongside a golf course. The initial phases of office and retail uses are leading residential development.

Heron Creek will provide Helena a community of options ranging from village-style homes to 2 acre lots, all linked by a network of walking trails. 

Missoula is taking a different approach to master planned communities with the city taking on the role of developer. The new Sx͏ʷtpqyen plan covers 685 acres with highly detailed development plans for builders to follow. The vision includes everything from high-density mixed-use apartments and retail to large single-family homes and open space. Different development guidelines will apply to different areas in the plan.

The Good News

Homes in master planned communities tend to hold their value due to HOA’s and the quality of design. Residents typically enjoy the ability to have a home in a community with walkable amenities and retail. 

Additionally, master planned communities allow for multigenerational living. Younger professionals can find apartments and townhomes, families can find a single-family house with yard space and empty nesters can move into a lower maintenance home. This creates more diversity in the communities. 

The Challenge

Building out the infrastructure of a master planned community- the planned open space, generous sidewalks, custom signage, amenities like pools, pocket parks, and clubhouses, and landscaping adds to the cost of the homes. Additionally, communities that include commercial and retail space may end up partially subsidizing those uses as demand grows.

For example, apartments built over a retail use may end up paying higher rents that subsidize the ability for a coffee shop or boutique to occupy a space that doesn’t pencil out.

While dedicated affordable housing can be a part of a master planned community, it requires subsidy. Due to the higher development costs, likely more subsidy than would be required on a stand-alone site.

Additionally, in general, homes in master planned communities sell at a 10% premium over houses in traditional single-use “cookie-cutter” subdivisions. This means they are often a premium play in the market.

Often while there is a diversity of age and household type within a master planned community, economic diversity is often non-existent. 

What does this mean for Montana? 

More choices for residents on types of housing and lifestyles. Traditionally, Montanans have had the option of rural living, typical suburban sprawl or in town neighborhoods with older homes. Now there will be more options.

It also means new centers of commercial uses for many cities. This is particularly true when the communities include a significant town center/commercial component. These can often readily compete with established downtowns. With growing cities, this typically is not an issue. But, for cities with more stagnant growth, it can pull business out of established commercial zones as they chase new rooftops.

Get more information on Montana development with Claire Matten, CCIM and Nick Chaussee.