Archive for December 5th, 2007

by jhwygirl

Good news out of the Administration & Finance Committee today – recommended for approval was a new transportation impact fee (at 50% of the consultant’s recommendation) and a parks impact fee that remains wholly intact.

Meetings on the impact fees have been ongoing for nearly 6 months. At the heart of the matter were developers who opposed the addition of any impact fee for transportation. Commercial development – which is contributing greatly to the transportation woes that can be seen on Reserve and Mullan, along with secondary arterials off of those main roads – didn’t contribute much (if anything) in funding to mitigate those impacts that grow greater and greater over time. Adding a transportation impact fee helps provide some $ to help the city deal with those impacts.

Because of all the bellyaching that was going on over the proposed transportation impact fee, a proposal was put forth by the Mayor’s Impact Fee Advisory Board which would have reduced the parks impact fee by 50%.

{Glad I don’t have to express my thoughts on that. Wait. Just this: One step forward, two steps back.}

It was mentioned before on the MissoulaGov listserv, and if I recall correctly, the transportation impact fee will raise approximately $1 million in transportation funds.

I don’t know the committee vote – but I can only hope that that this garners only minor discontent from the “Fab 4” (Haines, Hendrickson, Wilkins and Nicholson).

On another note – it’s good to see Council moving forward. Getting it done.

by jhwygirl

Plum Creek Timberlands is the largest private landowner in Missoula County. It is, in fact, the largest private landowner in the United States.

In Maine, Plum Creek has undertaken a plan to rezone 408,000 acres of land around Moosehead Lake. The Boston Herald – in a piece perhaps appropriately titled “Is this any placed to build a home?” – details some of the high points: protection of some 380,000 acres of land (the original proposal was to conserve 10,000 acres of land), including some 160 miles of shoreline and support by The Nature Conservancy and the Forest Society of Maine.

Locally, Plum Creek has been an important part of the Blackfoot Challenge. The Nature Conservancy of Montana has purchased a huge amount of land from Plum Creek – at least 68,000 so far – placing conservation easements on them, and then reselling and trading the lands, in an ambitious program with the goal of preserving the natural resources of the Blackfoot River valley.

All of that is good stuff. What concerns me is the lack of zoning in the county, which is apparently not the case with the situation in Maine. I’m not able to discern the actual structure and authority of the regulatory body – I’m thinking it is a state Land Use Regulation Commission – but what is clear is that there is actually a regulatory authority over development. Something that is lacking here in Missoula for the greater part of the county.

When (not if) Plum Creek decides to do exactly the type of thing it has proposed in Maine, local regulations are not in place to reign in any plans. Plum Creek is currently selling lands – that’s no secret – just pick up any Montana Land Magazine at your local realtor’s office. Plenty of whole and half sections of lands are for sale. Best bet is that more than half of those are Plum Creek lands.

From Monday’s Portland Press Herald is this tidbit (sorry, no linky that I could find):

Bill Townsend, a resident of Canaan and former member of the commission, said the board has a huge job ahead.

”We have known for 50 years that this day was going to come … and that is why, more than 40 years ago, the effort started to create the Land Use Regulation Commission,” he said.

So Maine is a bit ahead of the curve?

So I ask you Missoula – What are WE waiting for? The best insurance we have, for now, is that land prices are sinking. Maybe that will continue. Maybe it will mean that more people will come in and buy up land at bargain prices – not like Montana is going to get unattractive to those out-of-stater’s, is it?

Especially with no zoning.

It seems to me that Missoula is ripe for the kind of discussion that needs to be had between both the City Council and the Board of County Commissioners. A discussion about GROWTH and SPRAWL and TRANSPORTATION and AFFORDABLE HOUSING. A discussion of what we want to be in 20 years, in 30 years…in 50 years.

Do we want to look back on today, sometime in the future, and think “coulda, woulda, shoulda?”

by jhwygirl

Short and brief. The Pocono Record took notice of Patrick Duganz’s recent Independent piece on the Missoula Performing Arts Center (MCPAC).

You remember – the story which the Missoulian decided wasn’t news?

I also came across this piece too. It serves to remind me (and you) that this issue is not just that of the City Council’s realm – the County Commissioners are complicit also, in that they would be the ones to put the $20,000,000 bond on the ballot.

Merlyn Clark, professor emeritus of Political Science at East Stroudsburg University, who taught state and local government for 35 years provides us with this gem:

Let’s do the math. Beginning with a conservative assumption that 2,500 of these 5,850 houses are purchased by senior citizens or otherwise childless households, let’s also assume that the remaining 3,350 houses average just two children per house, and that the occupants of all 5,850 houses pay $5,000 per year in school property taxes. This is about $1,200 more than the current average property tax of $3,840 in the East Stroudsburg School District.

We also know that the cost of educating a child is approximately $12,000 per year. Here’s what we get. Annual revenue generated from school property taxes from this 5,850 house development: $29 million. Annual cost to the school district/taxpayers: $80 million–leaving a mind-boggling $51 million deficit, every year, to be picked up by the balance of the taxpayers in the school district, regardless of whether they ever darken the door of the arts center. And that’s just the beginning. We haven’t even started improving roads or providing other obligatory services.

In the mid-1990s, early boosters of the arts center concept approached Monroe County Commissioners James Cadue, Janet Weidensaul and Greg Christine with a request that the county guarantee $12 million in bonds to get the project under way. Commissioner Cadue asked a simple question: If the arts center is such a good idea, why can’t you get private money to underwrite it? Blank stares from the boosters netted them no support. But even bad ideas, if driven by the lure of sufficient gain for a few, can survive.

Maybe we should ask him to do some math for us?

If not for us, how about for the children?

by Rebecca Schmitz

Late last month, jhwygirl posted about Bill Schneider’s article at New West concerning the intense anger over Cabela’s “Trophy Property” real estate division. Earlier this year the 29,000 acre Weaver Ranch north of Winnett was sold through Cabela’s to a New Yorker who plans on closing it to sportsmen and subdividing it. Bill followed up this week with an interview with Cabela’s Senior Vice President, Mike Callahan. Mr. Callahan expressed regret over the damage this sale did to his company’s reputation, and made a few promises:

“From now on, you’ll see a different flavor on our website and in our trophy properties catalog,” Callahan assured. “We discourage subdivision, and in the future you’re likely to see some new policies in place with our affiliated brokers, and we don’t expect this situation to happen again.”

That’s all well and good, but as several people pointed out in the comments, the new language used on Cabela’s website has, to paraphrase New West reader Craig Moore, all the force of a UN resolution. For instance:

We strongly urge all new and existing landowners to throroughly research and consider public hunting and fishing access programs…Cabela’s does not condone or promote the subdivison of large or historic ranches…

It’s certainly nice that Mike and the rest of the folks at Cabela’s do not condone subdivision, but their strong urges and the Montana Subdivision and Platting Act are two different things. They’re in the real estate business now. Despite Mr. Callahan’s assurances to Schneider, once their “Trophy Property” holdings are sold, there’s very little they can legally do to influence the buyers. It would better for all concerned if Cabela’s was honest with Montanans like, unbelieveably, Plum Creek. The Darth Vader of the timber industry has made it perfectly clear that, for better or worse, they don’t give a rat’s ass what the new owners do with their former Montana timberlands. In a strange way that’s refreshing. For example, my mom lives near Condon. A few years ago, a Realtor bought some of Plum Creek’s logged land across the road from her and subdivided it. One of these new properties, about 100 acres, was bought by a fellow from North Carolina who stumped it, planted a sea of grass, and plunked down a small-ish seasonal trophy home. He sold that grass McRanch just recently to someone from Missouri for $3.2 million. Thanks to Plum Creek’s honesty, my mom and other residents know exactly what’s going to happen to the rest of the company’s property in the Seeley-Swan. They’re not happy about it, but at least they’re not being lulled into a false sense of security. Cabela’s should follow Plum Creek’s example and simply admit they can’t be both a friend to Montana sportsmen and a “Trophy Property” broker. They might lose a lot of customers here, but it’s better than making promises their buyers can’t keep.

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