From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 5, Number 27 - September 29, 2005
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Report recommends growth policies

by Cat Urbigkit

The Sonoran Institute recently released a report examining population growth rates in the counties of the tri-state Yellowstone region and providing advice for potential land-use policies to guide future growth. The report, “Yellowstone 2020: Creating our legacy,” is a shorter version of a more comprehensive analysis done at the University of Montana.

According to the report, from 1970 to 2000, the Yellowstone region experienced a 62-percent increase in population, while the amount of land developed in rural areas grew by 350 percent.

The report describes five major trends in rural development:

• Rural homes are concentrated near water and on highly productive soils. This trend reflects early settlement patterns and transportation routes established when people needed to be self sufficient in growing food and accessing water. The aesthetic and recreational value of rivers and lakeshores has also driven this pattern; people want to live near sources of water.

• Development of remote homesites encourages conversion of nearby natural areas. This occurs because new homes built in remote locations lead to the construction of roads, schools and utility lines, all of which encourage growth, by development along their borders; growth begets more growth once the infrastructure is in place.

• Natural amenities, such as rivers, sweeping vistas, and protected public lands attract growth. Natural amenities are strongly related to growth in rural housing. The areas experiencing higher levels of rural home construction tend to be in warmer and wetter regions, and have more direct access to national parks and forested areas. Recent increases in retiree and vacation homes have intensified this pattern.

• High amenity towns are more likely to attract nearby rural development.

Not all towns are likely to attract rural residential development. We found that towns near national park entrances were more likely to experience home construction in nearby rural lands, as were towns characterized by a highly educated population and a large proportion of employment in the professional services, like engineering, accounting, real estate, finance and architecture.

• The strongest driver of growth is the location of transportation infrastructure and services. The most influential drivers of rural home construction are transportation infrastructure and service-related factors, including road density, travel time from airports and travel time from hospitals. These factors play a complex role in promoting growth. For example, rural home construction increases the demand for new roadways and expanded capacity along existing roads.

The report had three major findings:

• Sprawling development, especially “leap frog” subdivisions constructed away from existing development, encourages further development of nearby natural areas. This occurs because the infrastructure and services that accompany “leap frog” subdivisions facilitate further development of nearby land.

• Existing land-use policies in most of the region are largely ineffective at limiting unplanned growth. While some counties have made progress in drafting good management plans, less success has been enjoyed in the actual implementation of these plans and policies.

• Policies in one county have major spillover impacts on growth patterns in neighboring counties. Good land-use standards and implementation in one local area are by themselves insufficient to prevent, and in some cases encourage, unwanted development patterns in adjacent areas.

The report’s authors provided the following recommendations for land use planning:

• A combination of land-use policies, including conservation easements, regulations and incentives, are needed to successfully balance future growth, fiscal well-being and environmental quality.

• Beyond writing good land-use plans and ordinances, the region needs to adopt policies to implement its best laid plans and enforce its regulations.

• For smart growth policies to be truly effective, regional coordination among cities and counties is imperative.

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