Seeley Swan Pathfinder -


By Colleen Kesterson

Keller Speaks on Land Use Element

Swan Valley Regional Planning Committee


SWAN VALLEY - Local real estate agent John Keller spoke to the Swan Valley Regional Planning Committee (SVRPC) Thursday about his research and thoughts on Land Use in the Swan Valley. Keller told them that the Swan Valley doesn’t need land use designation. He said the valley is set up now for future growth without further zoning and regulations imposed by Missoula County.

The SVRPC asked Keller to speak to their task of editing the Land Use Element of the draft growth plan. The committee is concerned with how to word the draft plan so that the Missoula County Board of Commissioners will understand how the Swan Valley residents want the valley to go forward in terms of land use. Chair Ken Donovan told those in attendance that Keller was well versed in the land use area having spent countless hours in county planning meetings and researching the subject.

Keller said that the Swan Valley does not have a growth problem. It is more a survival problem. The population of the valley, since the 1996 growth plan was written, is made up of a large segment of senior citizens and is declining.

The 1996 Swan Valley-Condon Comprehensive plan stated about 450 people permanently resided in the valley with the Swan Valley Elementary (SVE) school population at 96 students. According to 2010 census report, Condon had a population of 343 people down from 367 in 2000. The enrollment in the SVE 2016-2017 school year, is 30 students in grades kindergarten to eighth. There are six enrolled in the SVE preschool program.

Keller said he gets more requests to sell property in the valley than inquiries to buy. He told the committee in an email with more land and homes offered for sale, it is putting further downward pressure on property values for those wishing to sell. More than half the homes in the plan area are seasonal/second/recreation homes and for older owners. Keller said the “non-performing asset” will add to the “for sale” properties.

Keller also told the committee that he does not think the Swan Valley needs a land use overlay. He fells the current density patterns and vacant land provides for orderly growth in the foreseeable future.

He added that he encouraged the committee to resist the efforts of the government to impose regulations and zoning on the valley’s private land and interfere with the rural, simplified way of life. He said that landowners should be respected, retain their rights and have the freedom to make their own land use decisions.

Committee member Pat Sinz said that she thought zoning is a protection to homeowners. “What happens if we don’t offer any guidelines for zoning or regulations?” asked Sinz.

Keller responded, “[Suggesting zoning and regulations] empowers the county to impose their will on the valley.”

The committee turned to the question as to how to get the county to listen to what the valley’s residents want.

Donovan said that the committee needs to show Missoula County there is support for the plan from a large part of community. “We need [to come together] to control our destiny.”

“We want the land use element to satisfy the consensus of the valley residents. In their comments it was clear they didn’t want zoning or regulations,” said committee member Dave Johnson. Committee member Dwayne Forder agreed and added “individual property rights need to be respected.”

Keller said, “We need to put our [the community] heads together and identify what we want. Be specific. We can stop zoning and regulations. We have to.”

SVRPC alternate Sara Halm said to get the draft plan out for public comment they needed to move faster. “[We need to] make edits based on comments not rework every sentence.”

“We need to keep it [the plan] simple, five or ten pages that balances residential and commercial areas while protecting the amenities and beauty of the area,” said Johnson.

The next SVRPC meeting is Thursday, March 23, 7 p.m. at the Swan Valley Community Hall.


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