Design Excellence Overlay

Design Excellence is an Overlay which applies alternate design standards to Missoula's primary commercial areas, including the Downtown and main commercial corridors. Standards in the Overlay are intended to supersede any correlating standards in the underlying base zones. They modify the underlying standards, or add additional design variables or requirements.

The goals of Design Excellence are to create a distinct built environment. Much like its natural environment, people have been drawn to Missoula for its specific character and identity. Design Excellence strives to maintain the eclecticism that makes Missoula unique, and foster quality development that contributes to the public realm.

There are two documents created by consultants and adopted by the city. The first is the Design Excellence Standards book, which lays out design standards for the Downtown and Corridors also found in Title 20, 20.25.081 and 20.25.082, respectively. A design “standard” is a prescriptive requirement, which must be met to obtain a permit for improving the property. It usually is measurable, such as the dimension of a minimum setback, or the maximum height of a building. Or it may simply require or prohibit the presence of a particular design feature.

The second is the Design Guideline book, which has more flexible design options and opportunities to reach the same intended outcomes. Design Guidelines are divided into Site Design and Building Design.

View a detailed .pdf of all the parcels in the Design Excellence Overlay. For more general Design Excellence Overlay maps, see the maps in the accordion below.

            Contact Us

  1. Current Planning & Land Use
    Zoning Desk
    (406) 552 - 6625
    Available hours: 10 am – 2 pm

Determine whether a parcel is in the Design Excellence overlay with the maps below or using the What’s my Zoning? map to search your address. First, click 'Full Screen Map' at the bottom of the page. Once it opens, enter the project’s address. Then, turn on the Design Excellence Overlay layer by checking the 'Zoning Overlays' box on the list the right-hand side of the window. 

The .pdf map linked above or the general maps below can also help.

The Design Excellence Overlay is sorted into Sub-Districts for parcels in Downtown and Corridor Typologies for parcels along commercial corridors.

Alternatively, you can call or email zoning desk between 10 am and 2 pm, (406) 552 - 6625 or

Design Excellence Overlay Corridor and Downtown Map

Design Excellence Overlay - Corridors Map (Title 20, 20.25.082)
Design Excellence Overlay - Downtown Map (Title 20, 20.25.081)

Determine whether Design Excellence is applicable to your scope of work using the applicability section in Title 20, 20.25.080. Within the Design Excellence Overlay, compliance is required for any development for which Zoning Compliance Review is also required in Title 20, 20.85.130, except for detached houses, two-unit houses and townhouses. Design Excellence standards apply to:

(a) New construction;

(b) Redevelopment (including demolition of existing structures and modification of existing sites, including paving, parking and landscaping);

(c) Additions; and

(d) Modification of the building materials or window/door openings on a primary or secondary street-facing façade.

When the approval is for an addition or modification of the building, only the newly constructed or modified portion of the building and any associated modifications to the site are required to meet the Design Excellence standards. 

Design Excellence Review

The thresholds for the separate process of Design Excellence Review prior to building permit can be found in Title 20, 20.25.080.B.2.

Each Design Excellence Review submittal should include a completed Application Checklist, and visual materials including site plans, landscaping plans, floor plans, and building elevations. Once the Application has been reviewed with any variations, the review fee will be collected. 

A completed Design Variation Request Form may be used to vary from standards (if applicable).

Design Variation Requests

The Design Excellence Overlay allows for alternative design approaches to meet the Standards. A Design Variation Request Form is an opportunity to explain how an alternative design meets the intent statement from the Design Manual. Each standard has an intent statement in the Design Manual. Any project requesting a Design Variation requires Design Excellence Review (the separate application).