Saturday, May 10

Envisioning the new Bonner

The Bonner/Milltown area right outside of Missoula is undergoing several substantial changes all at once, with the removal of a century-old dam and the indefinite closing of the Stimson lumber mill. So it makes sense that the residents would want to think carefully about what kind of town they would like to be transformed into. Last week the community council met to decide whether to apply for an EPA smart growth grant that had been proposed months before. Unfortunately, the public who had gathered there in support of the grant were not allowed to speak, and the grant request was withdrawn by the commissioners only two days before the deadline.

The good news is that the council has decided to make Monday's meeting into a forum on smart growth, inviting some speakers in and emphasizing that the public will be allowed to comment. The meeting will be at 7:00 at the Bonner Public Library. It's too late to apply for the grant this year, but this is a great time to start drumming up support for next year's application. It is important to go into anything like this with a healthy amount of consensus and good information.

Here's how the letter from the Missoula County office of Planning and Grants put the goals:

"To assess the challenges and opportunities that come with these changes, the community [of Bonner/Milltown] is requesting assistance through the Smart Growth Implementation Assistance Grant to envision and articulate a plan for the area that can concentrate growth in existing neighborhood and town centers and encourage mixed uses, help to position the community for emerging economic and demographic trends, utilize current infrastructure rather than expand it, encourage walkability, and maintain a distinctive sense of place. This Implementation Assistance Grant will help the community minimize water quality impacts from development, particularly important because the area sits at the confluence of the Clark Fork and Blackfoot rivers. These discussions will also foster the sustainable redevelopment and cleanup of a brownfield site, and provide opportunities for housing that current and new residents can afford."

Those who oppose these goals should come up with salient arguments against them, and they should provide an alternative picture of what they would like the Bonner area to change into. The old line that the town should just stay the way it has always been is obviously not an option in this particular case.

Another good way for Bonner residents to prepare would be to look at previous recipients of the grant and see what effects it had on those communities. The EPA website has a list of "success stories" from previous grantees all over the country. It could be helpful to read through these and determine whether this definition of "success" meets your own definition.

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