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Bitterrooters nix planning petition

No planning vote

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A petition drive aimed at putting a growth policy before Ravalli County voters has failed for lack of signatures. A planning board member says the failed petition may be the first indication that Bitterrooters are beginning to think more seriously about planning.

A group calling itself Voters Opportunity to Educate (VOTE) began circulating the petition last year. Had it received the 3,196 signatures necessary, it would have required a vote on a growth policy.

“We came about 600 [signatures] short,” says Terry Nelson, a surveyor and VOTE member.

In one sense, the petition’s failure is a moot point since Ravalli County, the fastest growing county in the state, has no growth policy, and it doesn’t appear that one will be offered any time in the near future.

The real impetus behind the petition, says Nelson, was a controversial rule that was added to the county’s subdivision regulations last year. According to the new rule, a land developer must pave the road between his subdivision and the nearest paved county road, regardless of distance.

For staunch planning advocates, the paving requirement represented a long-overdue impact fee to the developer. To VOTE, it seemed an unfair burden. Others, regardless of their opinions on a growth policy, realized that such a provision represented a de facto moratorium on further development, since it would likely doom subdivisions planned for the far reaches of unpaved Ravalli County.

Nelson calls it a “back-door attempt” at regulating growth in the county. And he says that the rule was proposed not by a qualified planner, but by the county road supervisor and county sanitarian.

Nelson says VOTE would support a growth policy that was written by experienced planners, as long as it had considerable public input. Rather than launch a new petition drive, he says, VOTE wants to work with both the new county planner, Don Contraman, and the new planning board to come up with a balanced growth policy, instead of the “micromanaged” set of subdivision regulations the county uses now.

One of those new planning board members, Sonny La Salle, says that VOTE’s failure to attract enough signatures might be an indication that Bitterrooters are fed up with land developments that are incompatible with their surroundings, such as a racetrack that was proposed on pasture land, and a four-plex movie theater that was recently built in a rural neighborhood. Maybe now, he says, Bitterrooters are ready to give planning some serious consideration.

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