Gallatin Gateway Zoning

Some Gallatin Gateway residents are interested in new zoning rules to protect the rural residential and agricultural character of the town as it grows.

Support Local Journalism


Subscribe


As Gallatin Gateway grows, some residents are looking to enact zoning regulations to preserve what they enjoy about the area between Four Corners and Big Sky.

Given local interest, the Gallatin County Commission agreed this week to work with residents and county planning staff to develop the zoning regulations.

“People are really understanding what can happen without zoning, so I think there is a window of time now that people are interested and willing to at least pursue it,” said commissioner Joe Skinner. “Even some of the people who may have been against it in the past are thinking this might not be such a bad idea.”

Initial steps will likely involve county officials meeting with residents to understand their interests and to define the areas that would be included in a zoning district.

Writing and enacting the regulations could take years.

Gallatin Gateway residents started contacting the county planning department about potential zoning rules a few months ago.

Resident Rob Sisson said he began thinking about the need for zoning regulations after a commercial building went up near the intersection of U.S. 191 and Williams Road south of Bear Creek Properties and the Little Bear subdivision.

“It just seemed completely out-of-character,” Sisson said. “It’s not the business owner’s fault. It’s all of us who are at fault for not planning to protect this beautiful area.”

He said he’s not just worried about a single commercial development but about protecting the environment for future generations and preserving the rural, agricultural character of Gallatin Gateway.

“A lot of people see Montana as a place where you can do what you want with your property, but there is a change in attitude about the need to protect natural spaces, and it doesn’t take a lot to do that,” he said.

Sisson reached out to county officials in July to inquire about zoning.

In August, the planning department held a virtual public meeting with about 30 residents to discuss zoning.

Sean O’Callaghan, the county planning director, said residents at the meeting expressed concerns about the new development they are seeing. He said this is not atypical and when his department receives applications for projects in Gallatin Gateway, he often hears opposition from residents.

Over the years, the residents have opposed billboards along U.S. 191. In recent months, they have spoken out against a glamping resort that has been proposed just west of the Mill Street Bridge.

They are also preparing for the effects of new subdivisions such as Gateway Village, which will be built near U.S. 191 south of the Exxon gas station. And residents are seeing other groups making plans for the area, including the Montana Department of Transportation, which is studying U.S. 191 to develop ideas for future road improvements.

This isn’t the first time Gallatin Gateway has contemplated zoning.

In 2009, the town created a neighborhood plan, a non-regulatory document that guides development. The plan emphasized preserving the area’s rural character, focusing growth around downtown, protecting the Gallatin River, exploring the creation of a water and sewer district and looking into zoning regulations.

During the adoption process, some landowners were allowed to opt out of the plan, said Jill Joyce, a resident who helped write the document.

“Those who were involved in the plan were disheartened to see large agricultural properties removed,” Joyce said. “Those undeveloped areas on the perimeter (of Gallatin Gateway) are the ones that are most likely to change, so having them removed from the plan was like have the rug pulled out from under us.”

Shortly after the neighborhood plan was completed, Gallatin Gateway formed a water and sewer district, a step that can be a precursor to new development.

County officials and residents, including Joyce, also worked on crafting zoning rules, but their efforts fizzled out as construction slowed around the Great Recession.

Joyce said this time, the zoning process could be more successful than it was a decade ago because some landowners have changed their minds after seeing the recent construction in Gallatin Gateway.

“It’s becoming impossible to take the piecemeal approach of fighting each project individually,” Joyce said.

She also acknowledged that creating zoning regulations could be contentious.

“There’s a perception — and it does feel like — that during the process, it is pitting neighbors against each other, but it is really a process where the community can create its own vision for its future, so when outside developers come in, they are constrained by that vision,” she said. “I do sincerely believe that, but it’s a tough sell.”

Support Local Journalism

To see what else is happening in Gallatin County subscribe to the online paper.

Perrin Stein can be reached at pstein@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2648.