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New West Daily Roundup for Aug. 5, 2016

Today in New West news: developing Bozeman’s skyline, Utah senators propose mountain bikes in the wilderness, and wild horses in Wyoming.

Over the past few months, we’ve been reporting on developments in Bozeman’s real estate scene. Among the most pressing issues facing the city is the issue of housing density: how much is too much, how can the city preserve its scenic value (a big selling point for people looking to relocate to Montana). Is sprawl unavoidable?

Some in the city have proposed building more cottage-style houses, to cut down on house expansion and make better use of existing neighborhood space. And no matter what tack the city takes, infrastructure is at the heart of Bozeman’s economic future.

Now, according to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, one developer is seizing upon the density debate, and making a case for it being Bozeman’s future. Andy Holloran, owner of HomeBase Montana, has backed several projects aimed at transforming the city’s skyline—Block M townhouses, the Element Hotel and Mendenhall Street’s 5 West mixed-use building. The message: Bozeman needs taller, busier, and “ritzier” buildings, per the Chronicle. But Holloran’s latest project could really shift the density debate even further. From the Chronicle:

If it’s true that Bozeman needs to embrace density, building up to add housing for its swelling population while avoiding the pitfalls of sprawl, then what happens at the southeast corner of Olive Street and Black Avenue will prove a case study for the city’s future.

Now housing a two-story office building — and, fittingly, across the street from the city planning office — the site is being eyed by developer Andy Holloran for a new venture, a six-story, 62-unit apartment building.

[…]

But the Black-Olive site, though zoned for downtown-style urban development, borders a close-knit neighborhood of single-family homes as downtown meets the South Black Historic District. And the neighbors, echoing broader worries about Bozeman’s growth, have concerns aplenty about the high-rise that could tower over their backyards.

“I’m afraid it’s going to stick out like a sore thumb,” said one resident at a Tuesday evening meeting organized by city staff.

It threatens to “destroy some of the magic of Bozeman,” another worried.

Other neighbors — among 70 attendees crowded into an Element meeting room — voiced concerns ranging from additional traffic to on-street parking capacity and the loss of backyard privacy.

One, identifying herself as a local landlord, questioned Holloran’s tentative pricing for the building’s 62 apartments, which he said would range from studios to two-bedrooms and could rent for between $1,200 to $1,500 a month.

“Is there a chance that you can make less money and think about the greater good of the community?” she asked.

“I think it’s a little unfair to accuse me of being here just for profit,” Holloran countered, “because you don’t know me, and you don’t know the economics of a project like this.”

The Chronicle notes that, based on Holloran’s math, a renter in the Black-Olive project would need a yearly income of roughly $54,000 to be affordable. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, southwest Montana’s median wage is $41,400—with tech offering an average $61,100. However, Holloran told the Element crowd that, since the project is still incipient, tweaks could be made before the development process rounds up.

Down in Utah, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, Utah’s representatives in the U.S. Senate—Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch, both Republicans—have introduced legislation to allow mountain biking in designated wilderness areas, a move that runs counter to over 50 years of standard practice.

Under the 1964 Wilderness Act, use of “mechanical transport” is heavily restricted. This pertains most prominently to cars and, in recent years, all-terrain vehicles, but has traditionally included bikes and other wheeled vehicles. The only exception with regards to “mechanical transport” is wheelchairs. If enacted, the bill would affect over 100 million acres of American wilderness. From the Tribune:

The bill from U.S. Sens. Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch, both Utah Republicans, would give local officials with the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and other federal management agencies two years to decide in each wilderness area if bikes will be allowed. If no decision is made within two years, the bike ban would be lifted in that area.

The legislation, which has not yet had a hearing, comes from somewhat unlikely sponsors. Hatch and Lee both represent Utah, where outdoor recreation and mountain biking are big business, but are supporters of the GOP state’s push to take over public lands controlled by the federal government — something environmentalists and outdoor recreation groups oppose.

Lee, who said he’s a former mountain biker, said his bill takes on what he sees as another overreaching federal regulation that hamstrings locals and that there’s no evidence that mountain bike tires cause any more erosion than hikers do.

[…]

While mountain biking wasn’t a popular sport when the law was passed, they will alter the character of those spaces and are tough on trails, said Alan Rowsome with The Wilderness Society, a Washington, D.C.-based conservation group.

Rowsome said that only about 10 to 12 percent of all U.S. public lands are protected under the Wilderness Act, one of “the bedrock environmental laws we have in this country” setting aside some areas as sacrosanct.

That includes tens of thousands of acres of forests, valleys, lakes and peaks around Lake Tahoe, that “if mountain bikers could start riding those trails, they would be in Seventh Heaven,” said Ted Stroll, president of the Sustainable Trails Coalition, a nonprofit that’s working to overturn the ban.

Stroll said the wilderness ban on bikes leaves riders in Colorado on dirt forest roads from Crested Butte to Aspen instead of more scenic single track trails.

In North Dakota, he said, about 100 miles of one bike trail are bookended by wilderness zones, leaving bikers to make detours at both ends to avoid the protected areas.

Per the Tribune, some bikers don’t think the issue of wilderness biking should be up for debate, saying the bike community has long cultivated a relationship with environmentalists—and it would behoove them to keep the relationship amicable.

Speaking of environments, according to the Billings Gazette, a federal judge in Billings has ruled in favor of wildlife advocates regarding the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range. Previously, the Bureau of Land Management had sought to introduce a wild horse removal program in order to manage the population. From the Gazette:

U.S. District Judge Susan Watters in a July 29 ruling said BLM’s reliance on the outdated management plan in making a decision that the range had excess horses that needed removal was “arbitrary and capricious.” Her order set aside the agency’s decision.

Watters’ ruling favored the Friends of Animals, a Connecticut-based advocacy group. The organization sued BLM last year after the agency said it would gather and permanently remove 20 young wild horses and continue removing six to 12 wild horses annually.

“We are thrilled the court didn’t let the BLM get away (with) violating the law,” said Jennifer Best, associate director of FoA’s Wildlife Law Program.

Watters’ ruling, Best said, recognizes “that BLM was removing wild horses from the Pryor Mountains before considering a reasonable alternative — determining what the appropriate population for the area is and whether the range could potentially support more wild horses.”

The judge’s order also found that BLM could “not ignore its promise to the public to do a more thorough analysis of the Appropriate Management Level before removing wild horses,” Best continued.

[…]

The Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range consists of more than 38,000 acres of desert, forest and high mountain meadows. There are no livestock grazing leases on the range, which was established in 1968 for exclusive use by wild horses and other wildlife. The herd is believed to be descended from horse used by Spanish conquistadors.

In their original filing, Friends of Animals alleged the BLM hadn’t updated their population parameters since 2009, which made the 2015 horse removal decision erroneous. The BLM concluded that, yes, it had not updated its plan since 2009.

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