Residents of the 2,900-acre Double Arrow Ranch south of Seeley Lake are working to fend off a pending growth plan they say threatens their prized timber stands and the freedom to develop as they see fit.
"We didn't move here to be zoned," says Double Arrow resident Joann Wallenburn. "We're doing fine."
Many of the Double Arrow's roughly 1,000 inhabitants moved to the area to enjoy its tall ponderosas and immaculate views. Some worry now that, if approved by the Missoula Board of County Commissioners during a July 16 public hearing, the growth plan will affect their quality of life. Among the primary sticking points is a provision to limit the steepness of slope upon which a home may be erected. Residents are also worried about a fire mitigation mandate that calls for cutting down their beloved pines.
"We knew that there was a certain fire risk involved with living in the woods," wrote Double Arrow homeowners William and Roberta Cruce in a July 7 letter to the commissioners, "and we gladly accepted that rather than being forced to live within a city and having all the zoning requirements that goes with it."
While the substance of the proposal is taking fire, the protocol used by the Double Arrow Ranch Landowners Association to initiate the plan with County Commissioners is also drawing heat. Residents claim that the association's board of directors promised them the opportunity to vote on the plan. Instead, they were informed on May 17 that commissioners are poised to codify the proposal.
"It came sort of out of the blue," says Klaus von Stutterheim, who serves on the Seeley Lake Community Council. "Our constituents feel that they have not been adequately informed."
In response to criticisms, board member Jim Normark says the oversight body has worked publicly since 2010 to craft the document and never promised landowners a vote. It's not the board's fault, he says, that Double Arrow residents haven't been paying attention. "You can take the horse to water, but you can't make 'em drink," he says.
Now that residents are paying attention, Normark says he's happy to work with them to find common ground. He's also asking commissioners to delay casting their votes. "There might be a better way to do this," Normark says. "This is not set in stone."