We the Landowners

Montana Senate Bill 379 gives a few landowners veto power over zoning. I used GIS data to do a quick calculation of how that would play out in some Gallatin County zoning districts:

Zoning District Distinct owners Owners of 40% of Land Share of owners required to protest zoning acts
Bear Canyon District 84 5 6.0%
Bridger Canyon 885 10 1.1%
Middle Cottonwood 242 81 33.5%
River Rock 938 41 4.4%
Springhill 200 27 13.5%
Sypes Canyon #1 24 7 29.2%
Trail Creek District 339 10 2.9%

In remaining Gallatin County, 263 out of 42,576 distinct owners (less than 1%) could block zoning, but my calculations are incorrect because of missing data and the presence of Bozeman in the middle, but the truth is probably not too different from the calculations above.

In fact, the table above understates how dramatically this legislation moves toward a principle of “one acre, one vote.” First, represented “owners” in each district aren’t necessarily people; corporations and trusts get a vote in zoning protests too. Second, non-landowners are completely disenfranchised, even though as residents and citizens they still have an interest in land use policy.

Since MT legislators have already tried to override federal powers in a number of bills this session, perhaps next session they can introduce a MT-specific preamble to the US Constitution,

We the People Landowners of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union Subdivision, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility Profitability, provide for the common aristocracy’s defence, promote the general Welfare Subservience, and secure the Blessings of Liberty Property to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America, LLC.

I hope that there is in fact some valid underlying intent to SB379. My guess is that it’s fear of a fairness issue: that the rabble will acquire their small lots, then seek to use zoning to lock up all land remaining in large undeveloped parcels, to preserve views and resources. So far, this is a strictly theoretical problem. County commissions, and a lot of MT voters, are a conservative lot, which militates against such developments, and agriculture and forestry are protected from zoning anyway. If there’s any real need for policy here, surely there is a means to achieve it that doesn’t do such violence to democracy.

If the real goal is to create a de facto zoning ban, by making it impossible to create districts or amend regulations, then the legislature should simply de-authorize zoning. But, following the wingwalker’s rule (don’t let go of one thing until you’ve got hold of another), they should first come up with an incentive¬† system that achieves the purposes of zoning more flexibly.

2 thoughts on “We the Landowners”

  1. The “graybill” (the one with amendments inserted) was outright called the “Plum Creek Timber Company Graybill”. The proponents for the bill were the usual suspects — mining and timber industry and real estate developers.

  2. I read an article that says the wealth of top 40 “people” (?) in the Fortune 500 in America is equal to the wealth of the bottom 60% of people in US. Not blaming the wealthy, but the fact is that the pie left for the non-super wealthy is very small now and getting smaller.

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