Thursday, December 20

Considering county-wide zoning in Missoula

Jhwygrl, over at 4 & 20 Blackbirds, has recently been suggesting that Missoula ought to implement zoning at the county level. I think this is a good ball that she has started rolling, so I thought I would add a couple of points to help underscore how necessary this is to prevent sprawl. (I'm assuming this is a fairly universal goal around here).

First, perhaps the best place for us to look for how policy impacts sprawl is Boulder. As is often pointed out, Missoula and Boulder share so much in common, both being university towns in the West with plenty of natural amenities and high levels of growth. Although, of course, the proximity of Denver makes the analogy incomplete, It's still worth a look.

Here's a relevant paragraph from Growth Management In Boulder, Colorado: A Case Study (2001)

"The City coordination of planning efforts with the County is the glue that holds all of the planning efforts together. The City and County have maintained relations that lead to cooperative planning efforts from the early days of the Boulder Regional Planning Commission in the early 1950's to today. City and County cooperation in working toward common goals has prevented leap-frog development patterns in the Boulder Valley and other problems that occur when governments compete with each other. Thus, the environmental coalitions that spearheaded the 1959, 1965, 1967, 1971, and 1976 elections have essentially guided Boulder City and County land use planning since then, with occasional scrapes along the way. The result has been the preservation of two-thirds of the Boulder Valley."

In fact, some have argued that planning at the Boulder county level may not have even been wide enough. It has been difficult to prevent bedroom communities from developing right outside of the greenbelt, which essential bypass the purpose of the urban growth boundary. Doing something about this problem requires a State-wide initiative.

Sure, that would be nice. But how is it politically possible? Here's a little suggestion lifted from the book Sprawl Costs,

"Exercises to carry out the regional exercises of power that are needed to stop most outward growth have succeeded mainly when associated with some type of environmental crisis. In Florida, the crisis was encroachment of urban development on the Everglades. In Oregon, it was similar encroachment on the open farmlands of the Willamette River Valley. In Kentucky, it was the widely shared desire to preserve the traditional horse-ranch country around Lexington. In Washington State, it was the desire to preserve open spaces between Puget Sound and the Cascade mountains. Supporters of of similar preservation policies in other regions have also claimed that environmental crises are imminent in order to rally political backing for the legislative changes necessary for their strategy."

That last line sounds a little cynical, as if the crises are manufactured, but sometimes the truth speaks for itself. The trouble is that the pains of unchecked growth are often not realized until it has already happened.

1 comment:

jhwygirl said...

The trouble is that the pains of unchecked growth are often not realized until it has already happened.

Crazy, isn't it? Proactive would seem to be better than trying to fix something...that's why I change the oil in my car, at least. Same with a whole bunch of other things in my life - yet here we our with our community seemingly shattering into pieces without anyone really move to stop it from happening.