LIVINGSTON, Mont. - Paradise is a place with a population of one, says Charles Rahn. A rancher whose family has owned a 3,300-acre operation southeast of town for 50 years, Rahn says, "It's only paradise for the first person who shows up."
So last year, Rahn led a successful petition
drive to form a 66,000-acre zoning district that he and others hope
will rein in development. He admits that at times he has felt
selfish for trying to keep others from owning what he already
But after that first person arrives, Rahn
says, the sheen is gone from paradise.
destroy what they're searching for by their presence, it's lost to
everyone," says Rahn. He also points to the need to retain
agriculture and lessen the cost to the taxpayers of providing
services, such as snowplowing and school buses, as reasons for
creating the West Boulder Zoning
Forming the district took the
signatures of some 170 residents who own 50 percent of the land.
Those in the majority - about 60 percent of the people, including
TV anchor Tom Brokaw - see the district formation as grassroots
democracy at its best. But some landowners in the minority say they
are being overrun by land-use dictators. Recently several of them
sued the county, claiming they had not been properly informed about
the new restrictions proposed for their land.
Montana, regulation does not usually go over well. Gallatin County
tried a few years ago to implement a countywide system that
required anyone wanting to change the designated use of land - from
agriculture to residential, for example - to apply for a permit.
Officials spent nearly a year traveling around the county
explaining the plan to residents, but the proposal was then
derailed by property-rights advocates.
they are fairly new to Park County, zoning districts have been
around for decades: Gallatin County has 15 and Yellowstone County
has about seven, some of which date back to the early
Faced with complaints from property owners
who still want some regulation in their neighborhoods, officials in
Gallatin, Park and Yellowstone counties now show people how to form
a zoning district. Residents must collect the signatures
representing 60 percent of the residents and half of the land in a
proposed district. Commissioners then hold a public hearing, and
vote on whether to approve a district. Once commissioners approve a
district, they appoint a citizens' committee to hammer out
regulations for homeowners.
The process can take
a few months, as it did in an East Yellowstone district near here,
or a few years, as in the case of Cooke City, which sits outside
Yellowstone National Park. The regulations can be simple, stating,
for instance, that homes can be built only on parcels of a certain
minimum size. Or the regulations can become heavy books, as in the
controversial and growing areas of Bridger Canyon and Big Sky. The
regulations there include guidelines on housing design and setbacks
from streams and roads.
The benefit, say
government officials, is that residents control their destiny.
"It's not like the Big Brother government coming down on them,"
says Kerwin Jensen, a zoning coordinator for Billings and
There is some government
control. Often the planning department acts as the enforcer, and
county commissioners, along with two other elected officials, have
final say on interpretations of the
But Bob Jockers, a semi-retired
furniture builder, will tell you that a majority can be oppressive.
Jockers, whose family has owned land east of Livingston by the
Yellowstone River for 50-some years, now greets his neighbors with
a Hitler salute. His gripe: Last year, the East Yellowstone Zoning
District was formed specifically to prevent him from putting 35
homes on 96 acres in the semi-rural area where 10- and 20-acre lots
are more the norm.
"They stole my property," says
Jockers, who believes that if the neighbors want his property to
remain undeveloped, they should pay him for it. "The law allows it,
but as far as I'm concerned, they stole my property. I'm not a
crazy Freeman with guns in my cellar, but I do believe we are
losing what this country is all about."
Smith, a veterinarian, bought his lot from Jockers' father and has
lived there 17 years. Then Jockers proposed his subdivision, which
would allow manufactured homes in an attempt to provide affordable
"We were told this would remain a rural
environment," says Smith. "I would not have moved here if I knew
there was going to be a trailer park out front."
Smith says he understands Jockers' anger, but
says regulation has to start somewhere.
that zoning ordinance is in, the 40 percent of the people who
didn't want it are under the same restrictions as the ones that
did," says Jockers, who says he acts as a spoiler on the committee
assigned to write the regulations for the area. "It's an uphill
battle, and I don't expect to win."
Fear of too much
At the south end of Park County,
neighbors tussled for five years over a zoning ordinance for the
Cooke City and Silver Gate area.
The district was
an attempt to regulate a proposed gold mine in the area. After
residents found local zoning would not have much effect on mining,
they continued to forge ahead with an
Proponents say a few regulations will
allow the remote mountain area to maintain a rustic feel. Critics
contend there is no such thing as a little regulation. They fear
zoning will eventually mandate everything, from the color of their
garage to the height of their woodpiles, and this in an area so
isolated in the winter that if you're not speaking to your
neighbors, you might not speak to anyone until
Ken Hufford, who chairs the committee
that wrote the ordinance, says that at first he was against any
regulations because he thought there would be no local control. But
he looked at the unregulated areas around Park and Gallatin
counties and disliked what he saw.
The Cooke City
ordinance is simple and only aims to retain the area's appeal, says
Hufford, a builder who also works for the Forest
"It's so liberal, the majority of people
won't come into any conflict with what they want to do," Hufford
Meanwhile, the transformation of pasture
into subdivisions continues. In a letter to a local paper recently,
Joe Rahn asked, "Need we be reminded of the old basic truth, we
can't take it with us? Whatever we may accumulate in wealth and
material things will be left behind when we cross over from this
life. Of greater importance is how we leave the land."
Joe Kolman reports out
of the Billings Gazette's Bozeman
You can contact
* Park County Planner Ellen Woodbury,
* Park County commissioners,
* Buffalo Ranch Development Team,
* Project manager Dave Molebash,