Thank you for covering the Montana Association of Realtors’ (MAR) attempt to handicap cities, counties and towns from planning their future (see “Plowed Under,” Feb. 3, 2011). If passed, Senate Bill 209 would prevent local governments from requiring developers to minimize or mitigate the loss of agricultural land—the foundation of our farming and ranching heritage. The bill would also disqualify all evidence other than expert opinion presented in formal written studies, among other blatant attempts to put one individual’s rights above everyone else’s.
The bill sponsor, Sen. Tutvedt, R-Kalispell, was so appalled at the MAR’s assault on community planning that he pulled the bill before its public hearing in the Senate Local Government Committee. Unfortunately, Rep. John Esp, R-Big Timber, recently introduced a similar bill, House Bill 542, written by MAR, which will erode a local community’s ability to plan for a legacy of working farms and ranches.
While MAR lobbies for their “policy solution” to accelerate unplanned development across working farm and ranchlands, the Community Food and Agriculture Coalition (CFAC) is working hard for a comprehensive and predictable approach to protecting Missoula County’s agricultural heritage. We introduced a draft policy for working farms and ranches with the support of 1,355 Missoula County residents and 33 organizations with a stake in development and agriculture.
The difference between the two approaches is startling. CFAC believes local governments—like Missoula County—can work with local people to honor individual property rights as well as the community’s farming and ranching legacy. MAR believes a landowner has the right to benefit at the expense of current and future residents, and there is no role for local government to play in balancing individual and community rights so that we all have a chance to prosper and thrive.
It’s time for our elected representatives at the state and local levels to take notice of this assault on our rights and our legacy. Please lead public participation towards a place of common ground.
Community Food and Agriculture Coalition