The Three Forks City Council adopted the amended Growth Policy Plan during its Sept. 13 meeting, after eight months of revisions and public input – but not without further additions.
The motion to pass a resolution which would adopt the Growth Policy included the stipulation that a timetable for future review of the policy and a mention of the conditions of sand and gravel pits be added.
Three Forks City Clerk Crystal Turner told The Voice that the changes came after a tip from another city clerk.
“I was approached by another town’s clerk that their draft did not include a number of things required to be addressed in a governing body’s [Growth Policy] per [Montana Code Annotated],” Turner said. “I reviewed everything and found all but two that hadn’t [been] addressed as specifically as we could, or not at all.”
During the final review of the policy, Council President Gene Townsend asked whether the board should review the local growth policy more proactively, rather than waiting until the required five-year review.
Townsend suggested that the council “at least talk about” the growth policy on an annual basis.
“Things are happening in a hurry,” Townsend said, referring to growth and development in the area.
The revised Growth Policy states that the council should amend the document as needed; however, there was no specific timetable listing when to do so, until one was added in the final motion approving the policy.
Turner said the city staff will likely keep a list of items to readdress during annual reviews. The following language will be added to pages 1–4 of the growth policy, clarifying the timetable of review.
The Growth Policy is to be reviewed every five (5) years. Revisions shall be made in response to changing infrastructure needs, social, cultural, economic, and physical characteristics and in an effort to ensure the future health, safety and welfare of the Three Forks community.
The MCA requires that sand and gravel be specifically mentioned in growth policies. Turner and Three Forks City Treasurer Kelly Smith worked together to address the subject, choosing the following language to be added to pages 1–7 of the adopted policy:
The city and planning area are rich in natural resources. The proximity to the geothermal activity of Yellowstone, along with being in the center of three surrounding mountain ranges, provides the valley with a variety of geologic(al?) abundance, one of which being sand and gravel supply. While the city discourages new sand and gravel extraction operations which would conflict with adjacent residential neighborhoods, it does have several existing and former gravel operations within the planning area. The image (below/next to/etc) depicts operations within the planning area.
Turner said the growth policy will also include a map of the four current and former gravel pits in the area.
Planning for future housing developments in the Three Forks area, was a significant portion of the council’s discussion during the meeting, focusing primarily on affordable housing options.
It’s no secret that the cost of living in Three Forks and the surrounding areas has skyrocketed. At the moment, renting a single family home in the city of Three Forks costs approximately $1,500 per month, according to City Treasurer Kelly Smith.
To find a more affordable solution, the council discussed the potential of allowing more higher-density development options.
“We all want big lots. We all want lots of elbow room, but is that really realistic for people to be living in town,” Smith questioned during the meeting.
City Planner Randy Carpenter suggested that the council implement low, medium and high density zoning restrictions, which would provide developers with more choice.
Although some members expressed concern for approving high-density spaces, Carpenter said that developers won’t always choose the smallest lot size simply because it is available.
Although it didn’t make it into the final motion, Townsend also raised questions about references to agriculture in the Growth Policy, specifically those suggesting the removal of potential barriers to successful agriculture and those urging the city to encourage farmers and ranchers to apply for property tax exemptions.
“Who is the person that tells this ag person that he should be applying for Montana agricultural property tax exemptions, you know,” Townsend said. “Knowing farmers and ranchers the way I do, they might tell me it’s none of my business.”