Preserving open space worthy of another vote

8/6/2017 Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Editorial Board

Those who have lived in the Gallatin Valley for any length of time – 20 years or more – cannot help but be shocked at the rate farmland around Bozeman and Belgrade has been gobbled up by housing developments. It’s what happens around growing communities. Newcomers create demand for housing and developers meet that demand by paving over open spaces and building houses.

As extensive as the development has been, it could have been even more dramatic. Gallatin County voters OK’d two separate bond issues of $10 million apiece in 2000 and 2004 to help pay for the preservation of open space. Now that money has been depleted and open space advocates are asking county commissioners to put another bond issue to the voters to continue the open space preservation program.

At the least, voters should have a chance to decide on this. But commissioners have so far been noncommittal on what they will do.

To get on the issue on the November ballot, commissioners only have until Aug. 14 to make up their minds. On Tuesday at 9 a.m., in the commission meeting room in the downtown courthouse, the commissioners will conduct a hearing on the issue. This will be a pivotal moment in the open space program.

That the program has been a success goes without saying. Over the last 17 years, some 50,000 acres of land have been preserved as open space through conservation easements. In exchange for tax considerations, these easements prohibit present and future landowners from developing their land.

Nonprofit organizations like the Gallatin Valley Land Trust, the Trust for Public Lands and the Montana Land Reliance have used open space bond money to leverage private donations for the cause at a ratio of 5 to 1. That means the $20 million taxpayers approved has translated into some $100 million for open space preservation. These organizations also act as stewards for the easements, making sure the development restrictions are not violated.

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