How would you visualize the Gallatin Valley and your neighborhood in 10 years? How about 20 years? Or 50 years?
As we construct this hopeful vision of where we live, it is vital that we are knowledgably engaged with each other, with our neighbors, with our decision makers and politicians, with the hope of shaping the sort of future we want, rather than letting it shape us. —Opening remarks, Lucia Stewart
About 150 people attended the first community conversation in the Gallatin Valley Speaker Series Wednesday night in the Hager Auditorium of the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman. The event, “Shaping the Future of the Valley: Our Growing Challenge,” was organized by NewWest.Net/Bozeman and the Gallatin Grassroots Forum.
NewWest.Net/Bozeman editor Lucia Stewart moderated the discussion, which included speakers from a broad mix of backgrounds. The speakers addressed five main issues affecting growth in the Gallatin Valley: agriculture; community design and growth management; housing and real estate; water and air quality; and economic vitality.
Their presentations provided information to what are the current transformations going on in the Gallatin Valley and its importance to how we grow our place for the future.
Walt Sales, a fourth-generation Gallatin Valley farmer, opened the discussion by stressing the multi-faceted importance of agriculture. Sales emphasized agriculture’s contributions to open space; wildlife habitat; river flows; revenue; and, of course food.
“Ag is worth saving,” Sales urged. “If nothing else, you all like to eat.”
Sales recapped the previous three generations of agriculture producers in the Gallatin Valley, highlighting the immense changes each generation saw. From homesteaders having to worry about basic survival in addition to farming to later generations enduring a barrage of technological advances.
“The third generation…went from horse-drawn equipment to tractors to tractors with cabs to tractors with GPS [global positioning system],” Sales said. “Some of these folks would just as soon go back to the horse system…When they [technologies] work they’re great, but when they don’t that horse looks awfully good.”
Sales said one of the most unfortunate effects technology has had on agriculture is that efficiencies have steered farmers away from a reliance on each other, or a “community need” as Sales described it.
“Technology was supposed to free us up…but it’s pushed us into tighter time restraints,” Sales lamented. “Technology resulted in more time in the field to pay for those technologies.”
Sales said agriculture gives much and asks very little. For every dollar in agriculture we send in, farmers require 25 cents in services as opposed to $1.45 in services required by residential use, Sales said.
The way of life agriculture produces is also an extremely important point to be considered, Sales argued, saying many people are willing to pay money just to come share that way of life. Still, this way of life is threatened by outside pressures, Sales said. The disconnect between people and their food and high property taxes are just two of the threats to agriculture, Sales said. This creates financial stress for farmers, which makes the practice less appealing. Fewer and fewer children are choosing to stay on the farm, so farmers are eventually faced with selling their land to capitalize on high land values in western Montana.
“My hope is that bringing us together and understanding these changes and effects, understanding history…is a great opportunity to not necessarily nip it [growth] in the bud, but meet it head-on and make some changes,” Sales concluded.
Bozeman Director of Planning and Zoning Andy Epple spoke next under the issues of housing and real estate. Epple became the city planner in 1987. He recapped the immense changes seen in Bozeman and the Gallatin Valley since then. Epple said the city has been and is still working to keep development focused around existing city services using annexation as an effective tool.
“Compact urban development is the best way to prevent unchecked urban sprawl,” Epple asserted.
Epple spoke to the steadily rising cost of living in the Bozeman area saying developers and realtors will generally cite the cost of land as the single biggest factor influencing the rising cost of housing. Epple argued “low interest rates also have helped stimulate the housing market more than any other factor.”
Bozeman has grown a city the size of Livingston on its boundaries in the past 10 years, Epple noted. In 1983 the city approved 93 building and new dwelling unit permits compared to 526 by Sept.1 in 2007 alone. Epple said the city is on track to top 700 units this year.
Montana State University Professor Ralph Johnson presented on community design and growth management. Johnson, worked with the Sonoran Institute to publish “Building from the Best of the Northern Rockies,” and focused on many issues covered in the book. Johnson’s talk centered on “circumstance and conditions.”
“If you don’t know where you’ve come from, you’ll have trouble knowing where you’ll be,” Johnson stated.
Johnson spoke of the “six percent factor,” which says if you leave six percent of your money in the bank for 11 years it will double. Johnson said Bozeman has been struggling to meet a six percent growth rate, which Johnson explained is “almost impossible for infrastructure to keep up with…the community can’t effectively absorb that.”
Johnson presented slides on structures in the greater Bozeman area from 1905 to 2005 and included projections through 2025 based on current growth trends. The slides showed a dramatic rise in development in rural areas. Johnson then presented pictures of a wide array of different density developments in the Gallatin Valley.
“I really hate subdivisions named after what used to be there,” Johnson quipped.
Johnson emphasized the importance of planning and clustering to preserve the area’s open space amenities.
“Density doesn’t necessarily produce the visual effects of a blighted community,” Johnson argued. “In fact, it can be quite appealing…Density can become a very positive attribute to communities.”
Johnson closed by urging the community to get involved in helping Bozeman and Gallatin County officials encouraging density in the urban nodes; cluster development in the rural environment; and preserving beauty and productivity in the landscape.
Montana State Representative JP Pomnichowski discussed air and water quality in the West. She urged the audience to remember the Earth’s limited resources and stressed the importance of keeping air and water clean in the higher elevations like Montana. Consistent temperature inversions keeping pollutants close to the ground and Montana’s role as a source for freshwater for the continent should be paramount in planning, Pomnichowski argued.
Sonoran Institute Economist Joe Marlow spoke on the West’s steadily changing economy, citing Gallatin County as a “poster-child” for the West’s new economic trends. The structural change in the local, regional and global economies—led by a huge boost in the services sector—along with migration from urban to rural areas, demographic changes and tourism are the predominant changes affecting the West, Marlow said.
Marlow explained the services sector does not simply include the stereotypical “burger-flipping” jobs, but encompasses a global phenomenon including consumer, health and production aspects of the services sector. Marlow explained the baby-boomer retirement and the mobile ability of business to follow where people want to live is largely responsible for the booming growth the Gallatin Valley is seeing.
Because of Bozeman’s and Gallatin County’s high quality of life, open space and public lands, excellent transportation linkages, Montana State University and an educated workforce, Marlow said this area is particularly poised to capitalize on these new economic trends.
Several audience members raised the issues of preserving and using local, organic agriculture; planning for water usage in the face of booming growth; holding developers responsible for substandard building practices and enlisting greater community participation in city and county planning.
For more detailed information on what’s going on currently with county and city-wide decisions and meeting, including updates and details on the Transportation Plan, 2020 Growth Plan and the County Growth Management Plan, visit the Gallatin Grassroots Forum.