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?”

  1. goof houlihan

    hmm, will it be Gallatin, or Missoula that adopts county wide zoning first?

    We shall see. The Gallatin Commission has three republicans.

    It may just be Nixon to China.

  2. Ravalli is on a pretty fast track to county-wide zoning. I’ll have to post a short on it tomorrow – they just recently posted an updated timeline.

    Clarion & Associates, I think, they’re contracting with for consultants…and they’re also working with the Sonoran Institute.

    They’re also working on streamside setbacks – what fun! – and last night had an attorney come down to do a presentation on zoning regulations and taking claims.

    Lotsa fun to be a Ravalli County planner, I’d say. I shouldn’t say that – frankly, sounds like a dream job, to be involved with all that real good stuff like planning instead of just slogging along approving subdivisions.

  3. goof houlihan

    Streamside setbacks –are they talking about a distance greater than 75 feet? Counties do have a tendency to go wide, because they’re on septics and it can be defended against the “takings” nonsense.

    Ravalli was making some bizarre decisions last I heard. Has that changed?

    Will it be complete zoning, or zoning for density only? That’s the big “zoning” move in counties right now.

  4. Big Swede

    Plum Creek may be the largest private land owner, but Ted Turner is closeing fast.

  5. They emergency zoned for density – 2 per acre, after the referendum last year which called for county wide zoning. The 2 per acre was part of the referendum.

    What bizarre decisions do you refer?

  6. goof houlihan

    That one

  7. The Realtor I mentioned in my post yesterday bought a few sections of Plum Creek land. He’s made a bundle from subdividing them into large lots for wealthy buyers. Good for him, I guess.

    What’s worse for the county as a whole, a several trophy homes spread over three sections or clustered high-density subdivisions in rural areas–like the one proposed (and denied) at Clearwater Junction?

  8. petetalbot

    It’s way overdue for the county to have comprehensive zoning. That’s where most of the growth is taking place as the city is pretty well built out. That is, until the city annexes county lands (and then ends up with new areas in town that previously had no planning and crappy infrastructure because of the county’s lax regs).

    Well crafted planning and zoning might help answer Rebecca’s question above about trophy homes on huge lots vs. high density subdivisions — and where each type of development might be appropriate.

  9. Jim Lang

    Hopefully if there is a move towards county-wide zoning, the discussion will be more productive than the aborted streamside setback debate…. which was like a poster child for how to not introduce a controversial issue.

    If only they had talked to the the affected people – like myself, at this moment sitting on my living room couch about 78 feet from Gus Creek – BEFORE writing the rules, instead of AFTER, something might have been achieved. And now? Did they just drop it, or what? They certainly aren’t talking about it with me or my neighbors…

  10. Jedediah Redman

    A really lusty flood along Gus Creek would have what kind of moral..?

  11. Jim Lang

    You’ve obviously never been to Gus Creek.

  12. Jim Lang

    goof, on smaller creeks like mine, it was 75, I think it was 100 on larger ones… but it was the details, not the setbacks per se, that made the rules they proposed so unworkable. Like I said, with a different process, it could produce some sensible regs.

  13. goof houlihan

    75 is the Bozeman regulation, but the county’s maybe twice that at least. The “sometime creeks” and “non jurisdictional wetlands” should be less, the rivers and streams should be much more.

    The two per acre over the whole county is just a ploy to stop development, and such an obvious thing really won’t stand legal challenge. It also causes some serious political arguments.

    Gallatin County is talking 1 per 160, with incentives for cluster and transfer of development rights. Still can’t figure out how the TDR’s will work…especially in the city.

    Dense development should be in the city, and how does that work with county TDRs?

    Incentives are the sweetener to make the land use regulations go down, not a substitute for land use regulations…sorry, I’m working on my next telephone call to the Co Commission.

  14. goof houlihan

    By the way, hope the city–county coordination thingy goes better for you than it’s going for us…I think Missoula’s more homogenous and we don’t have anyone like my friend Jean down here, but here’s our story right now.

  15. The two per acre, goof, was on a citizen driven referendum. Can’t expect conciseness from that. It was intended to slow things down, and it certainly did that.

    Streamside setbacks? I haven’t paid attention what, specifically, they’re proposing. What I know about Missoula’s is that once they got to a few measly meetings and Frenchtowners and Clintonites cried “Takings!” the county commissioners abandoned that instantly.

    “You mean I won’t be able to cut my lawn down to the river?!”



    At least Ravalli is going proactive, explaining the law, and how it works.

  16. Jim Lang

    ^^ It’s those kind of knee-jerk reactions, oversimplifications, strawmen, and broad-brushing that make difficult issues more difficult.

  17. goof houlihan


    the streamsides could use a more “broad brush” and a lot less lawn

  18. County residents complained about streamside setbacks because, in part, they were not going to allow the removal of native vegetation – cutting lawns wouldn’t be allowed.

    So they start screaming “takings!” – and the BCC ran scared and the whole streamside thing went dead.

    Isn’t that what variances are for? The chances of someone’s lot being rendered completely unusable were slim. I’ve seen it once. And why the guy wanted to build there was absolutely insane. He had just over 50 feet of width from the river and then a huge cliff behind him. Just the road in was ludicrous.

    The sissys were the BCC.

  19. Jim Lang

    jhwygirl, you stated that you “haven’t paid attention what, specifically, they’re proposing” – yet, that didn’t keep you from forming an opinion about the opponents of the proposal. With all due respect, I would submit that knowing the facts should come before forming an opinion, rather than after.

    Again – if they had followed a better process, we might have some sensible regs in place right now. Instead, all they did was harden attitudes.

  20. Jim – I “haven’t paid attention, what, specifically, they’re proposing” IN RAVALLI.

    The opinion I expressed about the opponents of the proposal was here IN MISSOULA and I said what I said from what I actually saw.

    When I reread it, I still see that in there. But that’s me.

  21. Jedediah Redman


    Seems to me any interference with the owning and managing of anything can be fairly called a taking.

    Our modern tarbrushing process of stating a word in quotation marks has gotten so effective that the word liberal has become unusable and progressive is heading down that same road.

    And here I see a crowd of leftists doing the same thing with takings…

  22. You’re way off there, Jed, with your “seems to me” statement – otherwise just the act of zoning property would justify a takings claim.

  23. Jedediah Redman

    And in the basic sense of the word it does.
    I am familiar with no statement defining private property otherwise.
    True enough through legislation and legal precedent the notion has been bowdlerized a great deal; but it is the bowdlerized sense of private property of which you speak.
    Trouble with Reaqan Democrats is they have no appreciation for purity–insisting always that history begin with their sentences…

  24. Call me a Reagan Democrat again and I am going to probably suspend your posting priviledges here for a while. I’ve asked you once already. You don’t know me – so don’t call me that.

    I’ll add “Please” to that request.

  25. Jedediah Redman

    If you can suspend me for that, do it…

  1. 1 Foxes in the Hen House « 4&20 blackbirds

    […] has written extensively and persuasively about the need for county-wide zoning in Montana. Yet another reason […]

  2. 2 Better Late Then Never: Missoula Emergency Zones Away Lolo Gravel Pit « 4&20 blackbirds

    […] be staffed and funded adequately – it’s Missoula County’s tendency to play the victim (Plum Creek Timber? Oh, I forgot, that’s the USFS’ fault. Exempt wells and well seepage zones? Oh, I […]

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