Wednesday, November 29, 2023

The dire need for Citizen Initiated Zoning Districts in Montana

| March 10, 2023 7:00 AM

I write to you today with a heavy heart and deep concern for the future of Montana.

For years, our beloved state has been the recipient of a mass exodus from big cities across the country – people looking to escape a high cost of living, increasing crime and cramped living conditions.

They want to move to a place that feels safe; a place they can live a slower life and watch their kids grow up. While we understand their perspective – it’s why we are here after all – we cannot ignore the consequences of rapid growth.

As someone who has lived in Montana for many years, I have witnessed firsthand the changes that have come with this influx of new residents. From the sudden increase in traffic on our roads to the rising housing costs, it's clear that our state is no longer the same as it once was.

Our rural communities are struggling to keep up with the demand for resources and services, and the strain on our environment and wildlife is becoming more and more apparent. And even closer to the heart, lies the fact that more and more development of our land, changes who we are and how we live. It changes the way of life we love and cherish – most of us for generations.

The Yaak/Pine Creek area is currently on the verge of experiencing first-hand the negative consequences of subdevelopment in rural areas. There is a proposed subdivision on the old homestead, located on Pine Creek Drainage.

The development is set to transform the existing neighborhood permanently. The initial development consists of two subdivisions, totaling 13 lots - the majority having creek frontage. Ten of these lots have their own, separate well and septic system.

The situation has the potential to become even worse, as the proposal lists covenants that would allow further subdividing of said lots. The once quiet and serene neighborhood will be irrevocably altered.

Hunters in the area have also expressed concern, due to this currently undeveloped area being a critical crossing point for big game on the Yaak. This region is known as a dedicated winter range, despite the developer’s assertion that no such range exists on the land.

The developer failed to conduct any research and has not implemented measures to mitigate the effects on the migratory path.

Add in the fact that there are limited resources already in this area including refuse, fire, ambulance, etc. and it becomes a grim situation. How can an already struggling system accommodate a potential 130 additional residents packed into a small area?

We cannot continue to allow the population to grow at this pace without taking steps to ensure that Montana can accommodate them. We cannot continue to allow out-of-state developers to come in with one thing in mind: profit; profit without a thought to the impacts on the surrounding environment, human and animal life.

On a phone conversation I had with this developer, he very blatantly warned me that the tranquility enjoyed by the lower Yaak community was about to change.

As Montanans, it's up to us to preserve the unique character and way of life that we all cherish.

We must take action now to protect our state's resources, to maintain our rural way of life, and to ensure that Montana remains a welcoming and vibrant place for all who call it home.

We must work together to find solutions that balance the needs of new and old residents alike, so that we can all enjoy the Montana we love for generations to come.

One thing that can be done – if willing to put in the efforts – is to create a Citizen Initiated Zoning District (CIZD), which is governed by state laws as the name suggests, a Citizen Initiated Zoning District is established by citizens, rather than the local/state government.

These zoning districts enable residents to collaborate and create a land use plan that addresses the impact of subdivision and negotiates solutions for their area.

This unique process empowers neighbors to protect their neighborhood and align new developments with their vision for the community – requires that the developments blend in – rather than completely change – the existing community.

I urge my fellow Montanans and Lincoln County residents to join me in speaking out and demanding action from our elected officials; in taking part to create the change we wish to see.

Let's work together to protect the future of our state and preserve the Montana way of life that we all hold so dear.

Residents of Lincoln County who wish to submit comments on the proposed South Yaak and West Pine Creek subdivisions may do so by sending their feedback to the Lincoln County Commissioners and Lincoln County Planning Board.

Planning Board:

District 1:

District 2:

There are also resources available for those who are interested in more information regarding establishing a Citizen Initiated Zoning District.

In addition to emailing your county Commissioner, you can visit the below site for examples and guidelines.

It is imperative that we take action now before time runs out and we lose what we hold dear.

We must act quickly to preserve what makes Montana special; what makes Montana home.


Matt Franke, Pine Creek Committee for Sensible Growth