In 2008, Ravalli County became the only county in Montana to do away with their local growth policy.  Since then, the scales tipped in favor of big developments. Local Bitterooters have lost agricultural land, big game winter range, and their water quality at an alarming rate as developers have converted more and more farmland into sprawling subdivisions. 

Carlotta Grandstaff was a Ravalli County commissioner in 2008, and spent years observing the fallout since the loss of their growth policy. We sat down with Carlotta to find what could be in store for Park County if we follow this path: 

NOREF1: Why did Ravalli residents vote down their growth policy?

Carlotta: This unfortunately occurred in Ravalli County as a result of a deliberate misinformation campaign, so voters really didn’t understand what they were doing. The folks who wanted to get rid of the growth policy were willing to say and do anything to convince people. They were saying crazy things like you won’t be able to put up a birdhouse or build a treehouse with a  growth policy. That’s ridiculous of course, but it helped them get rid of the growth policy.

NOREF1: What happened in the Bitterroot after the growth policy was revoked?

Carlotta: When the dust settled people discovered they simply had less tools to work when dealing with new developments. Instead of having a plan to guide growth through local input, residents were now caught responding to one large subdivision request after another.  And now, they are grappling with the rapid loss of agriculture, impacts to water quality and less big game winter range. 

 

NOREF1: How does not having a growth policy impact what’s going on with all the subdivisions?

Carlotta:  Ravalli County residents are currently struggling with proposal after proposal for subdivisions that are going up in the middle of big game winter-range and in sleepy parts of the county that aren’t prepared to deal with the traffic.  Right now there is one big development proposed just outside of Hamilton for 140 homes on 10 acres, between two schools.  The traffic is going to be untenable and ruin neighborhoods.   Development is being foisted on local people and they just aren’t prepared for it. 

And unfortunately, without a growth policy, folks are finding out that it takes an enormous amount of time and dedication to fight the land rush.  The truth is, if you don’t have a growth policy, you as a private citizen, will be fighting every individual subdivision that comes down the pike that is inappropriately placed and will reduce the quality of life of residents.  

NOREF1: How did removing the growth policy tip the scales in favor of developers?

Carlotta: Losing a growth policy doesn’t mean it becomes completely lawless.  Developers still have to comply with State law and subdivision regulations, but those are minimal in comparison to the tools we lost when our growth policy went away. 

A growth policy is a community vision that helps guide where big development should occur.  It helps locals keep developments close to existing services, outside of winter range and wetlands.  That’s what it does, it helps you decide how and where you want to grow and it provides tools to do it if citizens want to use those tools.  If you don’t have one, and you think your neighborhood is protected, you need to think again.  Scrapping a growth policy is in no one’s best interest.  

NOREF1: Do local residents regret what happened?

Carlotta: Yes, I think that awareness is gradually growing as growth becomes more intense.  The problem is, most voters still don’t realize what they voted for back in 2008.   After the growth policy was removed and I was still a Commissioner, I remember  meeting with a room full of angry landowners who lived outside of Victor.  They were complaining that a neighbor wanted to put in a gravel pit in the neighborhood, and they wanted the County to stop it.  

I asked these landowners to raise their hands if they had voted to repeal our growth policy.  They clearly didn’t know or remember that their growth policy had ever been repealed or even how they had even voted.  But they were definitely unhappy to learn that the tools which could have prevented the gravel pit or helped mitigate it,  no longer existed.  Ever since the growth policy was repealed there’s been countless stories like that in Ravalli County.  

NOREF1: Do you have any words of advice for Park County residents?

Carlotta: Repealing the growth policy is not in anyone’s best interest whether you are a landowner, a developer or an elected official.   If you don’t have a growth policy, you have no protection for your biggest investment,  your home.  Right now, a whole new generation of people and wealth is moving into rural parts of Montana.  If you lose your control to help guide this growth, you will lose your County.

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