Helena Valley zoning plan hurts farmers and ranchers

Helena Valley zoning plan hurts farmers and ranchers

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I read a great quote recently. “A few times in your life you will need a lawyer, a doctor, a policeman, or a preacher, but three times a day you need a farmer.” While the other professions are important to our community, our farmers and ranchers are truly the fabric of our society. And right now, by trying to push through top-down zoning, the L&C County Commission is attempting to take away the property rights and livelihood of those very farmers and ranchers living and working right here in our county. A number of our ag community members felt that their voices were not being heard, and they asked me to run for the open L&C County Commission seat. I could not have been more humbled or honored by their request and support.

While I am 100% against the current zoning proposal, I am not against zoning when properly implemented. In fact, several years ago I was an active member of the Development Standards Working Group that was working on a zoning package for our county that used incentives to plan for the inevitable growth that is headed our way. The group had a diversity of stakeholders … builders, realtors, landowners, Smart Growth, Plan Helena. We were making significant progress, but the L&C Commission decided we weren’t moving fast enough, so they tossed aside all our work, disbanded the group, and just like the current Commission attempted to force through top-down zoning. I and others were able to stop the zoning with a grassroots effort using a statutory protest that allowed farmers and ranchers to protect their investment. Following the successful protest, the Commission forced through “emergency zoning.” It was later proven that the “emergency” was based upon cherry picked, inaccurate nitrate numbers that were used to justify the zoning. See Helena IR article, Oct. 21, 2008, “Nitrate Study Numbers Inaccurate.” Needless to say the L&C County Commission historically does not have an exemplary track record regarding zoning, and the current Commission is heading down the same path. I would urge the commissioners to step back, take a deep breath, go back to the drawing board and do zoning right, not fast. Get the public involved. Bring the stakeholders to the table. Listen to the people you are supposed to represent.

That being said, I also know that our County Commission has numerous other issues to deal with: roads, mental health, public safety, to name a few. We lose far too many of our veterans and young kids to suicide. Mental health is an issue that affects us all. Kudos to the Commission for the recent $708,000 DPHHS grant. We also have a growing drug problem in our community that is stretching the limits of local law enforcement. Programs like DARE and the Family Drug Treatment Court are key, and we also must ensure our men and women in blue are provided much needed resources. I applaud and pledge to continue the Commission’s efforts in these areas.

We live in an amazing county. For the very same reasons we love to live and raise our children here, others will want to live here too. While we all inherently resist change, the simple fact is our community is going to grow. We must plan for that growth, and do it without demanding that our farmers and ranchers bear the entire burden of paying for past planning mistakes. I would urge you to listen to “Paul Harvey, So God Made a Farmer,” and then join my campaign in calling on our L&C County commissioners to actually listen to what our local farmers and ranchers have been saying about the current zoning proposal. They do not want it. The zoning proposal does very little if anything to deal with the purported problems outlined by the Commission, and in some cases exacerbates them. It is another nail in the coffin of affordable housing, especially hurting young families wanting to purchase their first homes. And most importantly, it takes away the private property rights of our fellow citizens. Something that should be concerning to all. Thanks for reading, stay safe with the COVID-19 scare, and God bless America.

Michael J. Fasbender is a candidate for Lewis and Clark County Commission.



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