Montana starts planning ahead 

The future of planning is alive and well in both rural and urban Montana. From the development of county growth policies to a review of Montana’s present planning laws by a national planning group, the subject is one of high interest.

Ravalli County took a significant step toward establishing a growth policy last week when the county commissioners named 11 members to the recently reformed county planning board. The board’s major priority is to develop a growth policy for the county, which is among the fastest growing in the state.

Only one member, Tom Rufatto, is a member of the former board. He serves as representative of the Bitterroot Conservation District and was appointed to serve by that agency’s board. The former planning board was dissolved last fall after the commissioners discovered that it had never been legally formed by resolution. All former planning board members and many other citizens vied for positions on the new board.

From a field of 55 possible candidates, the commissioners interviewed about two dozen citizens. The 10 new members include: Joel Dubose, Neil Crawford and Frankie Liable (at-large representatives), Jim Broulette of Florence, Dale Linhart of Lone Rock, Jack Pfau of Stevensville, James Buker of Victor, J.R. Iman of Corvallis, Sonny LaSalle of Hamilton and Harriet Gibson of Darby.

The new board will have to deal with growth issues that affect Ravalli County but other groups are looking at the issue on a statewide basis. For example, the Montana Smart Growth Coalition is hosting a series of focus groups around the state to take an in-depth look at Montana planning laws and policies on growth management.

The local coalition is working with the American Planning Association (APA). Stuart Meck and Marya Morris of the APA are facilitating the Montana meetings. The focus groups are by invitation only and invited participants are sent a list of 21 questions dealing with Montana planning legislation. Participants are asked to consider and formulate possible answers before coming to the meetings.

One such meeting was held in Ravalli County at the Stevensville Wye on Monday with 15 county residents invited to attend. Among those invited was Dubose, the acting chairman of the new planning board and Fred McBride of Bitterrooters for Planning, who is also a former county planning board chairman.

The coalition hopes to have a draft report of their findings out by early summer and a final report issued by fall.

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