It seemed to be a snapshot of democracy at work as 87 residents of the Churchill-Amsterdam area sat around tables in small groups and discussed the future of the Dutch agricultural community.
Area residents have been working with Gallatin County Planner Warren Vaughan since last summer toward a neighborhood plan that, when finished, could lay the groundwork for generations to come.
The neighborhood planning process is a component of the Gallatin County Growth Policy adopted in 2003. It is designed to allow residents in specific areas in the county to write their own regulations based on what the community deems important.
Unlike Four Corners, the Settlement hasn’t changed too much over the years, but growth is on the horizon, Vaughan said. Last year, county commissioners approved preliminary plat of a 410-lot development, and another subdivision is in the preplanning stages.
“We have a tendency to operate in crisis mode when it comes to development,” Vaughan told the crowd. “Why wait for a crisis? We’re here to find out what the community values first then determine what to do about it.”
Vaughan gave a brief lecture on the theories behind land use planning saying the Gallatin Valley is a textbook example for rapid growth largely because of three main components — a university, pristine settings for recreational use and accessibility from federal highways and an airport. From there, he laid out different ideas of how to develop citing Churchill as a “natural example for well thought out planning without even trying.”
The task for the night was to utilize information gathered from a similar meeting last November and whittle those general ideas into obtainable needs, Vaughan said. Residents identified issues revolving around rural values attached to an agricultural lifestyle among the most important to keep intact.
After two hours, the 12 groups, headed by members of the steering committee, presented their findings. Each table had a myriad of requests but common themes that ran through the findings were installing central water, incorporating the community and utilizing conservation easements. Also, nearly every group wanted to see land use compatibility that would preserve open space and regulate land use to prohibit gaming and alcohol establishments.
County Commissioner Steve White attended the event as a casual observer and noted zoning should be driven by the people. Neighborhood plans work because they are written by the people who will be ultimately affected.
“What I found interesting is ... the personality of the districts are different,” he said. “I think that demonstrates that local citizens, if they are in the driver’s seat, is the appropriate way to plan a community because they know the personality of their community.”
The Churchill-Amsterdam area is somewhat unique due to the generational links and continued ties to the land, White said.
“When you look at that community, it’s really a town that never became a town,” he said. “Unlike a lot of other areas, Amsterdam-Churchill is still based around agriculture.”