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An IR View: Make your voice heard on Helena Valley zoning plan
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AN IR VIEW

An IR View: Make your voice heard on Helena Valley zoning plan

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While it may be hard to think of anything more mind-numbing than zoning the Helena Valley, its potential impact on affected landowners cannot be overstated.

The Helena Valley zoning plan being drafted by Lewis and Clark County is far from final. But the current proposals would drastically change the way people can use their land and could cause some property values to either plummet or skyrocket, depending on how things shake out.

About three dozen citizen-initiated zones already exist in the Helena Valley, but most of the land is not zoned. County officials say the current government-initiated zoning process is intended to ensure a wide swath of the Helena Valley grows at a sustainable rate and to help prevent incompatible land uses, but some critics see it as a way to needlessly limit development and take away property rights.

The current draft of the zoning plan divides the Helena Valley into urban, transitional and rural areas, with minimum lot sizes of 10 to 20 acres in the rural zones. While a prior version of the plan included a minimum lot size of 160 acres in some rural areas, county officials said they have backed off that proposal.

Commissioner Susan Good Geise said the urbanization and suburbanization of the Helena Valley will make it more difficult to address issues such as water, wastewater, fire protection, roads and flooding, and the minimum lot sizes in rural areas will help keep growth at a predicable and manageable level. Some landowners have argued that those issues are already addressed by subdivision regulations and say minimum lot sizes will decimate the value of their land, and in some cases their retirement plan, by preventing them from subdividing their property for future development.

Some have also argued the county isn’t doing enough outreach to affected landowners, but officials have held several public meetings on the project and plan to host more after the proposed use restrictions are released around April 1. A comment form is available at www.lccountymt.gov/cdp/zoning.html and is attached to the online version of this editorial.

The Lewis and Clark County Commission expects to make a decision on the zoning plan within the next few months, and their decision will likely be permanent.

Affected landowners should make sure their voices are heard before it’s too late, and county officials should do everything in their power to ensure the process is fair to everyone involved.

Real estate is the biggest investment many people will ever make, and this process will affect a lot of it in our area.

This is the opinion of the Independent Record editorial board, which recently met with Lewis and Clark County Commissioner Susan Good Geise, the county’s Chief Administrative Officer Roger Baltz and several critics of the zoning proposals.

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As open-government advocates throughout the nation were preparing for this week’s celebration of access to public information, some members of Helena’s governing body were robbing the public and their peers of their constitutional right to observe and participate in a decision-making process that will reverberate for years to come.

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