Envisioning Ennis

Draft Master Plan includes a roundabout, updated Main Street parking and affordable housing incentives

There’s no debate that the Town of Ennis has seen growth in recent years. According to data gathered by Cushing Terrell, Madison County’s summer population increases seasonally by 3,000, and many of those second homeowners are opting to stay year-round. Further, land, housing and construction costs are on the rise: Median home sale prices in Ennis increased from $266,000 in 2015 to $450,000 in 2020. That’s a 69% increase in five years.

Then there’s Big Sky, Ennis’ growing neighbor who eyes the community as a site for workforce housing.

Meanwhile, the town lacks funding and a sufficient tax base for public improvements.

To address the situation headon, Ennis Town Commission selected Cushing Terrell of Bozeman to create a growth plan for the community: Envision Ennis.

Community survey recap

The process took off earlier this year, inviting residents to offer their two cents via a survey and public comment period. Those initial results were revealed in July. Of the 700 surveys sent to area residents along with their utility bills, as well as an option to participate online, 152 people responded – 45% were residents, and 45% were 65 and up.

The small-town character was what motivated 24% of respondents to live in the community, quality of life was chosen by 25% as the best thing about Ennis, and at the top of the list of things respondents wished they’d see come to town were an additional grocery store with competitive pricing, a more and better variety of restaurants, and more people saw a need for nothing than for a recreation center or pool. Affordable housing was seen by 3% of respondents as a need.

More than half of respondents felt there has been too much residential growth in Ennis, while 54% felt commercial growth has been adequate. Just under 40% of respondents stated they would not support a property tax increase to help efforts which included affordable housing, attracting new businesses, a community/aquatic center or parks and trails. Seventeen percent did state they would support a tax increase for affordable housing.

Nearly 30% of respondents expressed interest in road paving, followed by 22% who had an interest in bringing improvements to the town’s water system. Other concerns included sidewalks, stormwater infrastructure, local law enforcement, streetlights, road maintenance and parking.

Other info squeezed from the questionnaire found concerns related to Main Street: it’s noisy, there’s not adequate parking, a lack of design standards exists, and intersection visibility is poor. Relatedly, a lack of sidewalks, backups at the Y intersection of town and the lack of a safe route to cross the Madison River were noted.

On the housing beat, it was noted that purchasing a new house is unaffordable, long-term rentals are all but non-existent, there’s a lack of land to build new homes on, and thus, employers are struggling to find staff.

Looking at growth, it was noted that conservation easements and floodplains restrict spread outside the community’s established borders. The concept of “small town character” seems to need a better definition; some expressed desire to avoid sprawling subdivisions which take up agricultural land; others sounded off regarding water and sewer system capacity, water quality, and a need for a Land Use Code update.

Draft Plan unveiled

Taking all this input and more, Cushing Terrell along with help from the project steering committee comprised of representatives ranging from river guides to medical center employees, property managers, business owners and more, began to create the first draft of Ennis’ Master Plan. That document was presented at the Madison Valley Public Library on Oct. 13.

Five specific concerns were identified and prioritized: growth management, a need to preserve the community’s smalltown identity, a need for more local and sustainable workforce housing, infrastructure capacity related to water quality and quantity as well as the wastewater system, increasing tourism’s impacts on infrastructure, and the quality of public services.

To that end, potential projects identified included a new hospital campus with workforce housing, a town collab with Ennis School District and the county for a recreation/pool center, and a highway-commercial area for more income-generating hospitality businesses.

Other potential projects touched upon included a traffic study regarding a possible roundabout at the Y-intersection, a collab with the school district for community parking in the summer, an expansion of Lions Club Park, as well as a Main Street makeover including an arch/gateway and adding a twoway bike lane.

Funding was then discussed, identifying the need for a town manager to run town operations and manage its budget. The option to pursue resort tax funds was identified as a way to pay for road maintenance, water and sewer system upgrades and law enforcement expansion.

Looking to land use and growth, it was agreed the Land Use Code needs an update. A staff planner could be hired to review development applications, and a Town-County Planning Board could be created to approve or deny the development applications within the town’s planning area.

Heeding the housing need, the draft plan calls for a revision of the town’s Land Use Code to include incentives for affordable housing, as well as to adopt legislation that limits short-term rentals, taxing them the same as other lodging. A formation of public-private partnerships for the development of housing for workforce, seniors and persons with disabilities was also recommended.

The draft master plan also included an update to the town’s 2014 Future Land Use Map, with the new version focusing on inside the town’s boundaries and in areas of change, consolidating residential designations and moving away from planned industrial. It also adds a Madison River buffer.

To see slides from both Envision Ennis presentations as well as check out survey results, visit envisionennis. The company will provide updates on the process on their website. 

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The Madisonian

65 N. MT Hwy 287
Ennis, MT 59729

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