Florence, Mont. has been called—by its own residents, no less—the wide spot in the road, and Missoula’s ghetto.
But some of those residents now have a different vision for their town, one that will take enormous planning, lots of money and plenty of expert advice.
Ben Hillicoss is the Florence representative to the Ravalli County Planning Board and sits on the Florence Civic Club. He and other civic-minded Florence residents can read the writing on the wall—and they don’t like what they see.
Recently, Ravalli County Commissioners approved a sewer project for the unincorporated town that relies on wells and individual septic systems. Hillicoss fears that when the municipal sewer system is installed and becomes functional, Florence will become a developer’s dream—and a resident‘s nightmare. Most homes there are on more than one lot, but those lots are too small to develop now because there is no municipal sewer system to serve them. Once there is, look for lots of new homes to spring up. With no zoning laws and without a county growth policy, Florence has the potential to become a hodgepodge of unplanned subdivisions, complete with all the attendant problems, including a boom in its student population.
But Hillicoss and others on the Civic Club have another vision for Florence. They imagine a village green with walkways and a park with a playground. Surrounding this no-car zone would be public facilities: a library, senior and youth centers, a sheriff’s office substation, county offices and, if Florence ever incorporates, a town hall.
Outside this inner ring of activity they envision small, “mom and pop” style businesses: restaurants, coffeehouses, bookshops. Further outside the ring would be office buildings housing “intellectual businesses,” apartments, townhouses and high-density housing, all within walking distance of the inner and outer circles, bringing together families, business owners, students and seniors. In short, a walkable community.
In fact, what Hillicoss and the Civic Club imagine is an entire town. “This is just a vision,” Hillicoss says. “If you wanted to pick out something that you’d like to see in the center of Florence, what would it be?”
The land the Civic Club has its eye on is now separated into different parcels and ownership and lies west of town. Next month the Civic Club will meet again with all the players, including the landowners, to see if and how this vision of the new and improved Florence can be made a reality. “Of course, this would all be done with the cooperation of the landowners,” he says. “We’re not talking about condemning anyone’s land or anything.”