Proposed Bitterroot subdivision raises land-use questions for rural Montanans

Jess Abell

As rural communities across Montana grapple to balance the need for affordable housing with the loss of agricultural land, increasing land-use conflicts raise questions of how to create more homes while protecting as much working land and wildlife habitat as possible. They are questions that have pitted neighbor against neighbor in families that have farmed alongside each other for generations in deeply personal battles of land, history and heritage.

These battles are nothing new for fourth-generation Bitterroot Valley rancher Alan Maki, whose family has worked their farm near the proposed Sapphire Heights subdivision northeast of Hamilton for more than 100 years. His family has worked to protect their land from neighboring proposed developments in the past and recently spent five years in court defending their water rights.

“When you grow up in the Bitterroot, you grow up learning how to protect your ranch,” he said outside of this week’s meeting of the Ravalli County Planning Board, while carrying a three-ring binder full of information regarding the subdivision proposal and statistics related to local wells surrounding the development. “We’ve stopped subdivisions in the past that wanted to build on top of us. We have a private property right

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