In a land known as ‘Big Sky,’ it should come as no surprise that there’s a certain cultural resistance to development density. Yet in Gallatin County, Montana, which has been topping best-places-to-live and best-places-to-retire lists in recent years, tremendous growth is forcing a closer look at the best ways to accommodate the burgeoning population. A Smart Growth Action Grant recently funded a comparative analysis study that will inform the ongoing development debates by clearly quantifying the fiscal implications of dense development versus sprawl.
In fact, the 1,100-member Gallatin Association of REALTORS® (GAR) received two grants to contribute to the complex process of developing a growth plan for the greater Bozeman region: a $15,000 Smart Growth Action Grant supported the study by an Asheville, NC-based urban planning consulting firm called Urban3; and a $1,500 Housing Opportunity Grant helped to fund an Affordable Housing Summit that brought stakeholders together to begin discussing goals for Bozeman.
“I have a handwritten note of thanks from the mayor on my desk right now,” says Ellen Beck, GAR’s Government Affairs Director. Between the in-depth analysis that was provided by the Urban3 study and the data collected at the Housing Summit, she says, the REALTORS® have earned not only the gratitude of City Hall, but also recognition as a serious partner in discussions about the region’s future growth.
The comparative analysis study, which was completed in July, highlighted the significant return of property tax per acre that would be realized by reinvesting in urban centers and historic commercial corridors; the findings were illustrated by a series of colorful 3-D images that convey relative land value, tax value, and value-per-acre at a glance. On July 11, Joe Minicozzi, principal of Urban3, presented the study results to three different Bozeman audiences: at a breakfast for the REALTORS®; at a City Hall luncheon for city staff, the local homebuilders association, and developers; and once more in the evening for the general public. Beck, who attended all three sessions, says “The primary goal was to educate the public with this very clearly reasoned analysis. I think a lot of minds that had been skeptical were opened, when presented with the tax implications of building up the urban core, as opposed to on the outskirts, or way out in the country. The graphics made a very compelling argument for Smart Growth.”
Two weeks later, GAR joined the city in hosting an Affordable Housing Summit that gathered representatives from the university and the local hospital, the region’s largest housing consumers; AARP; the Department of Transportation; the school district; the local land trust; and, of course, REALTORS®. A facilitator from the university had small groups work together to answer a series of questions ultimately seeking to determine an acceptable definition of ‘affordable housing’ beyond the HUD standard. “It was a fascinating and highly effective exercise,” says Beck, “and by having teams from such different sectors working together, it really made us all think in broader terms.” City Hall was so thrilled with the results, she says, that it asked the REALTORS® to follow up with an even more comprehensive summit.
“We could not have achieved all this without the support of the National Association of REALTORS®,” notes Beck. “Our goal, going in to these programs, was to inform the growth policy planning process, which will promote Smart Growth development standards and spur an uptick in compact, walkable neighborhoods,” she says. “Another really positive outcome is that the city is looking to us as partners with valuable resources, expertise, and information.”
To learn more about how the Gallatin Association of REALTORS® is working as a valued partner of City Hall to plan the region’s Smart Growth, contact Government Affairs Director Ellen Beck at 406-585-0033.