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Thread: Political Will - Bozeman, MT

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Budgie's avatar
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    Political Will - Bozeman, MT

    Has anyone noticed that Bozeman, Mt. gets alot of press for it's planning and development activities? It seems like Bozeman is cited as a case study in nearly every planning publication that crosses my desk. I met the Mayor a few years ago and was impressed with his strong sense of direction. Do the citizens of Bozeman have a strong political will coupled with social capital that makes them creative, optimistic and collectively achievers?
    "And all this terrible change had come about because he had ceased to believe himself and had taken to believing others. " - Leo Tolstoy

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    Wow- I wasn't expecting my town to get written about so explicitly.

    Let's see- I'm a county planner, but seeing as how I live in bozeman, i've got an idea on this. Bozeman is definitely a small city of strong opinions. There are an inordinate amount of people on both the pro-anything-goes-development side of the fence and on the pro-planning side of the fence. Bozeman grew by about 30% in the 1990's, so there is a lot of attention on planning and growth issues.

    Bozeman is also the poster child for cities that are growing because 1) there's a high quality of life (yellowstone and surrounding areas right here in our laps), 2) there is a university, and 3) there is a regional airport that lets people get to denver or salt lake and then the world. So a lot of the growth is made up of middle to upper class folks that could live just about anywhere (the creative class argument applies to a degree here). Those folks have moved here for a reason and there is a growing awareness that we should pay attention to those things we care about before the crush of growth takes them away.

    I think that a lot of political will comes about here because there are a number of non-profits here that get heavily involved in local planning, notably the Sonoran Institute and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. These folks, and others, have gotten on local boards and been involved in local planning processes in a way that has turned the community in a really positive direction. In addition to those two groups, there are quite a lot of conservation groups that have tossed their hat in the ring. There is a very strong awareness among conservation groups that, because of land ownership patterns in the West, many of the most valuable ecological landscapes happen to fall in private hands, and so a lot of groups that would traditionally focus on public lands (write the appeals, sue the forest service) have turned their attention to local land use planning. There are a lot of those groups here and they've got political capital to spend (to steal a phrase from our fair president).

    The mayor you met is no longer the mayor but is still on the city commission. And you're right- he's got a great sense of direction and is a strong leader.

    We are certainly not perfect here, though. I've written about this on cyburbia before, but we've currently got 16 zoning districts in the county and five more coming. When I say zoning districts, I'm talking about 16 little counties scattered about the larger county, each with its own zoning code and mini-plan. State law, and subsequent county policy, is far from perfect.

    All in all, I think its a great place to live.

  3. #3
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    Missoula

    Budgie and vaughn,

    I'm not too familiar with Bozeman but it seems like the city is running into similar problems that Missoula, Mt is running into and it seems like there is some good, strong leadership in the city like in Missoula....I lived in Missoula for about 2 years and it seems like Bozeman has more of the libertarian attitude towards growth and zoning, etc...Missoula's a bunch more liberal in that regard while still tending towards libertarian, it still is in Montana, after all...

    From what I've heard, this summer from a developer in Missoula, is that they're still trying to create "affordable" housing... the specific developer I spoke to was committed to the idea...He specifically meantioned Bozeman as a model that they didn't want to fall into, where the housing market is over-priced for all the locals and many of the day to day workers have to live about 15-20 minutes out of town in towns like Belgrade....and commute to work.....

    Vaughn, what's your take on housing prices,etc. in town?

    todd

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    Cyburbian otterpop's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by otisbirdsong
    Budgie and vaughn,

    From what I've heard, this summer from a developer in Missoula, is that they're still trying to create "affordable" housing... the specific developer I spoke to was committed to the idea...

    Vaughn, what's your take on housing prices,etc. in town?

    todd
    I can't speak for Bozeman. Missoula, where I lived for about ten years, has done some affordable housing projects that turned out attractive and blended well into the neighborhood. Granted, the developers sometimes had to be pulled kicking and screaming into doing it. Maybe, a gun to their head is a better analogy. Affordable housing units was a proviso for approval of their project.

    Helena is unique in that it developed quickly in the 19th century as a rich mining town and government seat. As a result many very large Victorian houses were constructed on either side of Last Chance Gulch. Too large for today's families and too costly to maintain, many of these houses have been converted to either B&B's, or apartment buildings. So what we have in Helena is mixed residential use by evolution. Turn-of the century single-family homes, next door to former mansions (converted to multi-family), modern single-family homes, and even mixed professional and retail uses. Helena still has affordable housing, due to the present availability of apartments and mother-in-law apartments. There is very little affordable housing in the county, other than the "horse ghettos" (a double-wide, with one or two horses on ten acres that has been grazed barren)
    "I am very good at reading women, but I get into trouble for using the Braille method."

    ~ Otterpop ~

  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    otisbirdsong-

    Affordable housing is bozeman's great failing right now. I am more familiar with the county, of course, but i do know that its next to impossible to get a house for less than 180k anywhere near the downtown core... for a single guy making pathetic wages, I think i'll be stuck in crappy basement apartments for a while.

    Missoula has done a much better job of tacking the affordable housing question... Again, i believe its the non-profit organizations that have led the way and done some incredible projects. Remember, though, that Missoula is also double the size of bozeman, and until recently, bozeman has been viewed as a relatively small cow-town. We're making the strides that we can right now what with all of the frantic development (and subsequent greed) that has taken over the valley in the past decade or so.

    We just passed (another) $10 million open space bond that is purchasing development rights around the county... i think that community attention on the affordable housing situation will (hopefully) be next on the agenda.

    Otterpop- I was just in Helena friday for the Montana Smart growth coalition meeting... you guys have a fantastic downtown. Haven't been there in a few years and was really, really impressed.

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