Land use planning heart of commissioner race for district 3

For Dave Germann, the reason he’s running for Madison County Commissioner is pretty simple – smart growth.

“The main thing that the commissioners can influence is growth,” Germann said. “I’m not a no growth person, but I’m a smart growth person. That’s why I think we need to do zoning.”

Zoning gives everybody more predictability about what kinds of development are appropriate in areas around the county, he said. Additionally, it allows landowners and communities to have a discussion about how they want to grow.

Germann, a rancher near McAllister, is challenging commissioner Jim Hart from Ennis, who is wrapping up his first term as county commissioner for Madison County Commission District 3.

And though commissioners have to deal with a lot of issues outside of growth, how the Madison Valley develops is of particular concern to many of its residents, Germann said.

“The valley is the least screwed up of all of the approaches to Yellowstone National Park and I’d like to see it stay that way,” he said.

The best tool for preserving the Madison Valley is zoning.

“Zoning was invented to uphold people’s property values,” Germann said.

Currently, the situation is what he calls “unfettered development,” where developers can build whatever they want wherever they please, he said.

This leads to conflicts.

For instance, the developments around his ranch conflict with his agriculture operation and make for unhappy neighbors, Germann said.

“They call the cops every time a cow get’s out in the road,” he said.

Zoning, and all the tools it affords, could help preserve agriculture in the Madison Valley by providing means for landowners to sell their development rights to land developers.

Zoning would also promote the clustering of development so that new growth doesn’t take more infrastructure than necessary, Germann said.

Residential development costs the county more in services than it returns in tax dollars, he said. The way to get around that is make developers pay impact fees for the necessary infrastructure, while at the same time putting development where it should go.

“By clustering development, you can build infrastructure to the development,” Germann said. “But if you scatter it helter-skelter it takes more infrastructure.”

Hart agrees with Germann that the county has to look at zoning, but he’s far less convinced it’s going to be the right thing for the Madison Valley and its citizens.

“My job is to listen and then try and sort through what everybody has to say and try to make logical decisions based on what facts I have,” Hart said.

But this must be done through balancing private property rights.

“I’ve pretty much always been a private property proponent,” he said. “Most people have common sense on how to take care of their private property.”

Zoning, in theory, does seem to simplify land use issues and where certain kinds of development should occur, Hart said. However, there are still many other questions about how zoning would work in Madison County. It’s just not simple.

However, zoning and land use continue to be concerns for people in Madison County and the commissioners need to look into their options.

“That’s part of our job,” Hart said. “We have to look into it.”

Streamside setbacks are a good example of an issue that commissioners felt needed to be investigated, he said. That’s why they organized the streamside setback steering committee to advise the Madison County Planning Board.

The issue is contentious and hard to figure out, but Hart is anxious to go over the planning board’s recommendation and listen to more public comment.

Setbacks, like countywide zoning, raises the issue of property rights, he said.

The planning board has done a lot of work on setbacks, going back almost 30 years, Hart said.

“It’s a tough issue,” he said.

Right now the planning board is recommending a commissioner initiated zoning district for implementation of streamside setbacks on the Madison River.

Hart’s not sure he’d support commissioner initiated zoning, but instead would like to see citizen initiated zoning, which puts the responsibility on landowners to work together to implement setbacks.

As far as what the setback distances should be on the Madison River, he still hasn’t decided. The current recommendation from the planning board is a 300-foot building setback and 150-foot streamside buffer zone.

Right now the commissioners will be looking at the planning board’s recommendation and gathering as much additional information as they need to make a good decision, he said.

“Bottom line, I want to make sure my daughter and my grandchildren will see the Madison Valley in much the same way as I saw it when I first came here,” Hart said.

Setbacks could be managed by countywide zoning, Germann said.

“This is an issue that needs to be worked out in a zoning kind of environment,” he said. “There’s a lot of room to address the concerns people have (through zoning).”

Germann has experience in land use from his time working for the North Slope Burrow in Alaska as a zoning administrator.

Germann has also been a businessman, teacher and engineer. Besides running his family ranch, he currently has a custom meat processing business.

“We can enhance our economy best by changing the way we shop,” Germann said in a statement. “People need to cultivate an ethic to buy local products. I have tried to model my business on this premise, a rancher processing our own cattle and marketing them from our ranch instead of selling our calves at auction and having them processed in another state then shipped back here having lost their identities as a product of Montana.”

Hart is a Montana native and was a business and English teacher for 27 years at Ennis High School. He initially ran for office four years ago in an effort to continue to serve the community.

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