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If current trends continue, it’s conceivable — maybe even probable — Gallatin County will be the state’s most populous by mid-century. One only needs to take a spin around town on a weekday to appreciate the increase in traffic density stemming from the influx of urban COVID-19 refugees pouring into the area. And the rapidly increasing population — and the housing boom it’s causing — is spilling over into rural areas surrounding the city like never before.

Gallatin County is updating its growth policy for the first time in nearly 20 years. The document’s name may have a bureaucratic ring to it that doesn’t stir much interest. But anyone with a long-term stake in the future of this area will want to pay attention to this one.

Dubbed “Envision Gallatin: Tomorrow Together,” the document is intended to guide development over the coming years. Land-use planning for housing developments, open space preservation and recreation opportunities are addressed in the draft. The public is invited to weigh in on the proposed policy until April 2. It can be found at envisiongallatin.com.

The document projects annual growth between 2.5% and 3% — less than the actual 3.19% experienced over the last 20 years. But even that higher figure will likely be revised upward when the influx of newcomers in 2020 and 2021 is factored in. And more of the same is likely in the future.

A recent Bloomberg.com article, “Remote Workers Spur an Affordable Housing Crunch in Montana,” describes how the pandemic has shown many professionals they can do their work from wherever they want to live. And guess what? They want to live here. The article cited how local rental and housing costs jumped by 58% and 50% respectively in a single year.

In the face of all this it’s becoming glaringly obvious that planning is paramount.

Updating “Envision Gallatin” is a start to confronting growth issues. But it needs more realistic assumptions about how fast the county’s population will grow. It may need more aggressive land-use planning — perhaps even countywide zoning — to stop runaway development from gobbling up remaining open space. And alternative sources of funding for infrastructure improvements must be sought. Growth doesn’t pay for itself — not at first — and existing property owners are being burdened with too much of the cost of those improvements.

Bottom line is we may be getting steamrolled by growth faster than we are planning for it. It’s time to get real and get to work.

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Editorial Board

  • Mark Dobie, publisher
  • Michael Wright, managing editor
  • Bill Wilke, opinion page editor
  • Richard Broome, community member
  • Renee Gavin, community member
  • Will Swearingen, community member
  • Angie Wasia, community member

To send feedback on editorials, write to citydesk@dailychronicle.com.