SubdivisionandFarm

alexandra estates - subdivision aprovedThe Alexandra Estates subdivision spread 23 residential lots across 116 acres of farmland -- most of it containing best soil we've got (shown in red). Since the 1980's, subdivisions like this have paved over 29,000 acres of working farm and ranchlands in Missoula County. That's an average of 3 football fields a day!

Alexandra Estates Subdivision

A new subdivision proposed on 116 acres of farmland just North of Lolo, Montana. 

On December 7, the Missoula's County Commissioners unanimously voted to approve the subdivision without requiring any protection of the imporant farmlands.   

Problem: Permanent loss of precious farmland.

Ninety percent (104 acres) of the property is underlain by important agricultural soils, most of which are considered prime and run 2-5 feet deep (shown in red to the right).  If approved, the subdivision would convert every square inch into residential lots.  As such, Alexandra Estates threatens to spread houses across more prime farmland than any of the 30 subdivision proposals CFAC has reviewed in the past 4 years.

 

Because this land could support a highly productive farm or ranch and produce food for generations to come, CFAC has recommended that the development be denied as currently proposed.

For more information, click here to read CFAC's detailed comments on the subdivision proposal.  Or, read the Missoulian's and Independent's coverage, or check out the local NBC news.

Solution: Minimize the loss of farmland. 

In keeping with the Lolo Regional Plan, CFAC also suggested that the developer re-design the subdivision to cluster the houses, keeping the vast majority of the best farmland intact for future food production.  This is also in keeping with Montana State Law, which mandates that a subdivision's impacts to agriculture must be considered and should be mitigated.

CFAC members at the Planning Board, which voted unanimously to recommend denial of the development.

CFAC members at the Board of County Commissioners, which voted unanimously to approve the Alexandra Estates subdivision.

Case Study: Blue Heron Estates subdivision

There is a way to mitigate the impacts to agriculture.  CFAC would prefer to see the entire farm remain productive and available for agriculture for future generations.  However, if it is going to be developed, the impacts to agriculture must be mitigated.

One recent subdivision shows what that might look like.  Blue Heron Estates started out on a similar path as Alexandra Estates: 5-acre residential lots covering every square inch of prime irrigated farmland. 

CFAC recommended denial of the subdivision's first design, shown at right.  (Click here for our comments on the original Blue Heron Estates design.)   Five Valleys Audubon also had issues with the original subdivision design, as residential lots are not conducive to protecting important bird and riparian habitat. 

  
blue heron estates - design 1
Blue Heron Estates, design #1: 15 five-acre residential lots across a 75 acres of irrigated farmland, most of it prime, as shown in red.  CFAC recommended denial and offered to work with the developer on a better design.

The developer decided to work with CFAC and Five Valleys Audubon to re-think a design that would better conserve the important resources.  He decided to cluster 16 residential lots on 23 acres in the northern portion of the property, shrinking the residential footprint to 1/3 of its original size.  This allowed him to permanently protect 30 acres of farmland (shown in green) and 22 acres of riparian habitat to the south (blue).  (Click here for our comments on the final subdivision design. )

This may not be CFAC's ideal, where all 75 acres would remain intact for a sustainable, working farm that produces food for the community.  However, it's a darn good change from the status quo, where subdivisions are approved without conserving any of the land that sustains farms and the community.

At the end of the day, every one was pleased, including CFAC, Five Valleys, and the developer.  (See related feature story on this unique collaboration.

It should not be too difficult to imagine what this approach might look like if played out at Alexandra Estates.  The vast majority of the prime farmland would be conserved for agriculture with continued access to irrigation, and the developer would still get to concentrate the home sites on a portion of the land.

blue heron estates - design 3
Blue Heron Estates, final design: 16 residential lots on 23 acres. 30 acres of farmland and 22 acres of riparian habitat permanently protected as conditions of approval.
Click here to go back to the map of subdivisions on farmland, and here to read about CFAC's policy proposal to create a more predictable and systematic approach to plan for continued agriculture and development in Missoula County.

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