Subdivision Impacts

sub-divisionFive years ago our Chapter began reviewing subdivision proposals in Clark Fork River‐Grass Valley Important Bird Area for impacts on birds and other wildlife. Our factually‐based opinions were respected by the City‐County Office of Planning & Grants. This effort quickly grew to reviewing all subdivision proposals in Missoula County. In the past four years, we reviewed 38 proposals and submitted comments on 12 of those; and on about half of those we provided testimony at County Commissioner hearings. As a recent example, in January a 59‐unit subdivision near Clearwater Junction was denied by the County Commissioners. In our testimony we recommended that 12 lots adjacent to a riparian area be eliminated. The Commissioners went further and denied the entire subdivision.

Recently, we participated in Missoula County Listening Sessions aimed at revising and improving subdivision regulations. Gary Knudsen and I offered suggestions for improving how birds and other wildlife are evaluated in the review process. Our key points included:

  • Require more specific information about wildlife than is provided by the currently used generalized vegetation type‐wildlife occurrence reference.
  • Species of Conservation Concern should be better defined for developers and planners.
  • Riparian area setback distances for vegetated buffers and buildings need to be adopted that realistically reflect disturbance impacts to birds and other wildlife and effects on water quality.
  • Accumulative impacts of individual subdivisions should be evaluated by the Office of Planning and Grants and the Planning Board for consideration by the County Commissioners.
  • Wildlife impacts, esp. related to appropriate setbacks, should be addressed by developers earlier in the planning process such as during the Pre‐application phase. (One developer told us: “If we had known about these wildlife concerns earlier, we would have designed it differently.”)
  • Require evaluation of wildlife impacts in “Minor Subdivisions.”

Currently, Janet Ellis of Montana Audubon is participating on a statewide technical committee to draft model subdivision regulations that improve consideration of wildlife and water quality. Their efforts should be helpful to Missoula County. Our Chapter and State Audubon organizations are working to help assure that impacts on birds and other wildlife due to land developments are adequately evaluated by developers and planners, which as we all know, is critically important due to pressures of an expanding human population and related development.

by Jim Brown

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