Exhibit A

by Rebecca Schmitz

In the comments of my previous post, I linked to an article in today’s Missoulian about the efforts of folks in Lakeside to establish “planning districts”–zoning–as a way to combat poorly planned development. Towards the end of Michael Jamison’s article is the description of a proposed subdivision in an un-zoned area of Flathead County that’s a prime example of everything the Fire Suppression Interim Committee is warning us about:

A recent Lakeside flurry centered on a proposed gated community called Bear Mountain, 26 lots on 160 forested acres once owned by Plum Creek. It is the vision of former Canadian hockey player Lanny McDonald…It’s 160 acres, subdivided into lots of about six acres on average…It’s behind a gate, above the lake, on the other side of the highway, with a shared lake access, in good wildlife habitat, with questionable emergency roads, built with individual septic systems. “It was fought pretty hard,” Harris said, “and we don’t really try to encourage that type of development at all. It’s steep with very thin soil, not a good place for septics…”

Forested Plum Creek land? Steep lots with poor access roads? Potential problems with the groundwater? Sounds perfect, if taxpayers are able to spend millions of dollars to protect these 26 trophy homes from a wildfire. How much longer can Montana afford these kinds of developments? How much longer can all of us afford to resist county-wide zoning?

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  1. County officials are going to have to be dragged kicking and screaming into zoning. They aren’t going to do it on their own – they’ll only do it by having the public push them into it.

    And even then, they’ll twist and maneuver and interpret to avoid it – recall the Rock Creek fiasco and the most recent gravel pit situation in Lolo.

    It’s all in a mis-guided quest for greater tax base. Thus my statements about how development never pays for itself. Any single subdivision will cost the taxpayers more in services like police, fire, roads, than it will rake in in tax money.

    Frankly, it’s a shame the state has to kick in with those regulations – but when counties continue to approve subdivision after subdivision that cost the whole state tens of millions of dollars in firefighting (i.e., tax revenue), they got no choice. People out in Glasgow shouldn’t be subsidizing subdivision development out here via firefighting efforts.

  2. I think the Senate Bill you mentioned in the comments on the earlier post

    SB 167 also passed the legislature this past session. It requires that counties that don’t comply with SB 51 reimburse the state and/or general fund appropriation funds that were used to fight fires in the wildland urban interface areas being defined, currently as you point out Rebecca, by the DNRC.

    will go a long way towards pushing those county officials.

  3. goof houlihan

    Water quality just isn’t going to stop development, it’s clear. The DEQ isn’t going to get into the land use regulation biz.
    It is going to be up to the counties.

  4. Big Swede

    Looking from across the state somehow I get this feeling that if Bear Mountain was a trailer court with no restrictions on the condition or year of structure and allowed up to three unlicensed vehicles per lot with rent rebates for families on assistance you guys would be for the development.

  5. You missed the point entirely. This has nothing to do with the income levels of the homeowners. Thanks to the lack of zoning, the sloppy design of this development needlessly endangers both firefighters and the future residents. And, it will cost the rest of us a lot of money to protect all of them from wildfire. As jhwygirl said in the comments of my previous post:

    These new regs should end up with counties identifying wildland urban interface areas (which in Missoula’s case would be the whole puppy) and then enacting regulations that require certain mitigative efforts be undertaken and enforced otherwise, it’s a no-build affair.

  6. JC

    Subdividing and development in the fire plain–let’s get away from the using the urban-wildland interface moniker (there’s nothing “urban” about where Plum Creek is proposing to sell off its lands)–should be treated similarly to developing in the flood plains. Highly regulated.

    People wanting to build in the fire plains need to be regulated for the dangers and costs they present to the community, state, and federal government.

    Fire plains need to be identified and classified. Zoners need to zone accordingly. Planners need to have adequate regulations in place to ensure fire-wise safe structures and escape routes.

    Lenders need to mandate that insurance policies are in place to cover losses. before loans are given. Insurance companies need to charge rates that not only include structure and personal effects, but also costs to minimize fire danger and to fight the inevitable fire.

    Why we don’t treat development in the fire plains like we do that in the flood plains is beyond me. The costs of fire catastrophe are no different than those of flood catastrophe.




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