Recently, at the commissioner hearings in Hamilton and Lone Rock, the wife of the owner of Legacy Ranch complained that BFP was spreading misinformation and fear about the impacts of the proposed Legacy Ranch subdivision. We have also been accused of being “obstructionists” and “anti-growth.” As the current president of BFP, I would like to respond to these accusations and clarify why we do what we do.
First, let me state that the simple mission of BFP is to promote comprehensive land-use planning that protects and enhances the attributes of our valley we value so dearly. So we are proud to plead guilty to informing citizens of Ravalli County about what we see as potential negative impacts of the proposed Legacy Ranch subdivision on these attributes. Labeling this action as “spreading misinformation and fear” is nonsense – to the contrary, we are trying to provide more accurate and complete information to our commissioners and to the public than we feel has been provided by the developer.
Second, we have engaged in this effort to ensure that the people’s voice is heard. In our view, current subdivision regulations and associated processes, both local and state, are heavily weighted in favor of the developer. Nearly all language permitting reference to such things as community values, cumulative effects, way-of-life, custom and culture, etc, has been eliminated from the review criteria. The common man, and his/her community, has virtually no meaningful input in the current process. The process is so badly out of balance that litigation seems to be the only way citizens can effectively participate in the decision making process. So while I sympathize with Commissioner Foss’s dismay that litigation is being considered even before a decision is made, I can only point out that this is necessary because other mechanisms for community input have been eliminated. Is anyone else thinking Growth Policy?
Finally, while we accept Mrs. Morton’s assertion that “change is inevitable,” we disagree with her underlying assumption that population increase is necessary for economic growth, and her inference that, therefore, loss of our rural, agriculture-based community is inevitable. To the contrary, plant biology shows us several ways that growth is maintained and even enhanced without increasing population density. First, the phenomenon of plant succession shows how specialization in life form and function can increase biomass production of a community without increasing numbers of individuals. Second, studies of plant competition show that increasing the number of individuals initially provides for increased growth, but then leads to lower individual growth rates and to reduced community growth. We humans have, unfortunately, focused exclusively on the early stages of the dynamic and ignored the later stages. Third, how we define growth makes a difference. The standard forestry practice of thinning crowded stands of trees reduces the number of individuals and reduces the total biological growth of the stand. But, it increases growth on the remaining trees, and the value growth of the thinned stand increases, relative to the unthinned stand, because higher value products can be recovered from bigger trees. The lesson we need to learn from these observations is that economic growth and prosperity does not depend on attracting more people; it depends on living and working smarter.
So, BFP is not “obstructionist” or “anti-growth,” we just believe there are better and smarter ways to think about and manage development that could minimize the occurrences of Legacy Ranch style conflicts. As a start, we suggest the BOCC appoint a special, bi-partisan, committee to review current regulations and procedures, identify opportunities for improvement, and make recommendations. BFP would be pleased to participate.
President, Bitterrooters for Planning