Tuesday, August 22, 2017
Breaking News
Home » New West Conferences » Planning in the West

Planning in the West

Flathead Planning: Will Nasty Debate Ever Abate?

In the last two weeks, rumblings over planning issues in Flathead County have escalated to explosive debate, with heated public meetings, a lawsuit, calls for the planning director’s resignation and allegations of illegal planning activities and fiscal abuse. As a result, much has been left in limbo. Fed up citizens continue to push for drastic changes within the county’s planning and zoning department, while the office staff and community supporters of neighborhood planning have moved to defend their work. The recent controversy began simmering when a handful of citizens raised questions over an online Yahoo! group being used by the volunteer committee rewriting the Lakeside neighborhood plan. Because the forum wasn’t accessible to the public, detractors called it secretive and illegal, arguing that it violated open meeting laws. Then, a public meeting in Somers meant to provide information on neighborhood planning dissolved into a shouting match when opponents interrupted.

Read More »

Flathead Planning Lawsuit: Secret Meetings, or Sour Grapes?

Flathead County planners might be saying amen to that this week, in the wake of a lawsuit and ongoing allegations by a group of vocal locals who claim the county and a planning committee conducted a too-secretive planning process that violated Montana's open meeting laws. Planning processes everywhere in the state, it seems, are a battlefield in which elected officials and disgruntled private landowners are accusing planners and others of violating proper procedure. Insert the nation's legendary litigiousness into this recipe and you get a sulfurous stew, one that makes it increasingly difficult for anything with the word "plan" in it to get off the ground. The battle gets particularly strident where property-rights groups like American Dream Montana -- whose members are among those who filed the Flathead suit -- campaign against people they denounce as "smart-growthers" and (in their view) socialists run amok.

Read More »

Doing Density Right

Stand in the shadow of any giant residential megablock in Seattle and you can't help but wonder: Isn't there a better way to do this? The reality of massive buildings now being auctioned off at fire-sale prices seems proof that bigness alone is neither necessary nor a sufficient condition for successful development in Seattle. Developers have long crowed — and local politicians have cowed to — the notion that "we can't make money in Seattle unless we build six-story buildings." After a round of developer-driven up-zoning we now behold the post-bubble result: fleets of full-block behemoths standing half-empty, unsold, even half-built. What will we make of this enforced economic pause? Will we carve out urban and mental space in which to think about growing smartly and sustainably instead of just bigger and faster? Or will we simply wait for the banks to resume shoveling debt so the bulldozers can resume shoving dirt? A few blocks from the lively Cal Anderson Park on Capitol Hill is a place that could change our thinking about Seattle urban density.

Read More »

Montana Laws and Citizens Embrace Smart Growth

In my travels across the West, the dramatic reversal of growth and development in just about every town, city, and state where we work is remarkable. The boom has become a bust. As I witness the changed economic landscape, a Teddy Roosevelt quote comes to mind. "In any moment of decision the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing."

Read More »

Overstatements and Mythical Ranchers

The scenario sounds eerily familiar. NMWA presented the Dona Ana County wilderness proposal to local governments, claiming wide-spread support from area ranchers. In reality, the ranchers had no input on the proposal and were unaware that government entities were passing resolutions of support.

Read More »

Designing the New West

The Designing the New West: Architecture and Landscape in the Mountain West Conference is wrapping up here in Bozeman at the historic Gallatin Gateway Inn. Put on by NewWest.Net and sponsored by the Sonoran Institute, the conference brought together designers from all over the country to explore innovative design ideas, identify best practices, and better understand how to bridge the gap between good architectural theory and sometimes-messy building practices in the fastest growing region in the nation. A mix of presentations and engaging panel discussions tackled pressing Western issues like sustainable development, land design and the special challenges of urban, rural and resort design, historic preservation and affordable housing. Click on the photo or here for a slideshow of the days' events. Click "more" for a recap of the conference.

Read More »

Understanding the Basics of Water Law in Montana

In Montana, and throughout the Intermountain West, water law affects every part of our lives and communities. Priority dates dictate the volume and distribution of water from wells and streams. Landowners must put the water to beneficial use without waste to retain their right to use the State’s water. News articles about water issues illustrate that many people are confused about Montana’s water laws, even landowners and local officials. Here are the key points to understand the basics of Montana water law.

Read More »

Can Urban and Rural Develop a Shared Sense of Place?

The Western landscape is viewed with different economic, social and recreational values, depending on your livelihood and residence. But can we share the same sense of place? Susan Duncan continues her discussion of urban and rural inhabitants, but this time, with examples of common grounds and shared dialogues that assist in understanding each other. A shared sense of place evolves from dialogue in an atmosphere of mutual respect for differing views. How much do you know about the people and places that surround you and the forces that affect your daily life? What does it mean (to you and others) to live in this place? How can you and your neighbors work together to adapt to the forces of change to protect what is important to you? The result of this exploration is a shared sense of place. A shared sense of place is a large jigsaw puzzle in three dimensions – urban, rural, and public land. Your job is to find where you fit into the whole.

Read More »

Montana’s Gallatin County Moves Ahead with Countywide Zoning

Gallatin County inched closer to county-wide zoning Tuesday as commissioners took public comment and helped assist the planning department in the drafting of zoning regulations. As the communities of Four Corners, Amsterdam-Churchill and Gallatin Gateway endeavor to form neighborhood plans, the Gallatin County Commissioners and Planning Department are tasked with establishing zoning outside those communities in a county that has never been too keen on the idea. Now, as citizens have seen what rampant growth looks like firsthand, they are pressuring the county to do something about it. And soon. Though unanimity didn’t hold the day, the commissioners did agree to move forward with several policy decisions on zoning. The commission and the planning department both acknowledged finalizing the regulations would be a slow, complicated endeavor. By moving slowly, however, they hope to engage a more meaningful public process. Still, planner Sean O’Callaghan described said process as “swallowing the elephant one bite at a time.”

Read More »

Rural Growth, Climate and the Wildland-Urban Interface

The wildfire issue is a pressing one in the New West. Fire seasons are getting longer and drier by the year, fires are more severe, and, to top it off, the modern western migration is bringing an unprecedented influx of homes into the wildland-urban interface (WUI). As wildland fire suppression operations increasingly consume dwindling Forest Service budgets and taxpayers grow ever wearier of footing the pricey bill of defending homes in the WUI, the onus for preparation and protection is increasingly falling on homeowners and local communities. In 2006, interested parties from the public and private sector gathered in Helena at the Montana Communities and Wildfire Conference to begin a new discussion on the WUI and the West’s changing fire seasons. According to organizers, participants expressed overwhelming support for the formation of a non-governmental non-profit to perform public education, outreach and on-the-ground assistance in wildfire mitigation in the WUI. The result is FireSafe Montana, which held its first annual conference in Bozeman this week.

Read More »