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Victory in Defeat

Park County residents vote down Referendum 1, opting to retain growth policy amid unprecedented development boom

Park County residents this week voted down Ref 1 and kept their growth policy to stave off explosive development. Since 2000, nearly 38,000 acres of Park County have been converted to housing, and 61 percent of the 2,782 new homes were constructed on large lots of more than 10 acres. Photo courtesy PCEC
Park County residents this week voted down Ref 1 and kept their growth policy to stave off explosive development. Since 2000, nearly 38,000 acres of Park County have been converted to housing, and 61 percent of the 2,782 new homes were constructed on large lots of more than 10 acres. Photo courtesy PCEC
by David Tucker

After months of contentious campaigning, Park County residents have elected to retain their growth policy. Voting 2,035 to 1,365 against Referendum 1, a citizen-initiated ballot measure advocating for repeal, voters on Tuesday, June 4, let their voices be heard. A 60 percent majority supported keeping the policy in place while county officials work on an update to the existing blueprint.

“Residents of Park County have made it clear they want to protect local control and reject uncontrolled development,” No Ref 1 campaign treasurer Colin Davis said in a statement. “This outcome shows we all care deeply about the future of Park County and that we, not out-of-state developers, know the best way to protect our way of life.”

According to the most recent We Will Park County survey, that way of life revolves around landscapes, natural amenities and quality of life, which many residents view as threatened by recent unprecedented growth. Since 2000, nearly 38,000 acres of Park County have been converted to housing, and 61 percent of the 2,782 new homes were constructed on large lots of more than 10 acres.

This development model fragments habitat and disrupts migration corridors by increasing the presence of fencing, new roads and permanent structures. Wildlife have been particularly impacted by the increase in traffic through Paradise Valley, according to a recent Center for Large Landscape Conservation study. Between 2012-2023, the study said, 1,685 animals were reported killed in collisions with vehicles, equaling $32 million in direct damages and up to $72 million in intrinsic losses.

“It’s a huge relief to have this growth policy stay in place,” said Erica Lighthiser, interim executive director of Park County Environmental Council. “Goals and objectives that have a lot to do with the issues we care about at PCEC—land, water, wildlife, protecting open land and healthy landscapes—there’s so much in that policy that creates this guiding vision.”

While the margin of victory was significant, only registered voters in unincorporated parts of the county are eligible to cast a ballot, per Montana law. That left residents of Livingston and Clyde Park—about 50 percent of the population—without the power to participate. Overall, 3,400 ballots were cast, representing a voter turnout rate of 43 percent.
“Residents of Park County have made it clear they want to protect local control and reject uncontrolled development.” – Colin Davis, treasurer, No Ref 1 campaign
Had a majority of residents voted yes on Ref 1, Park would join Ravalli as the only other county in Montana to opt for repeal. With the votes tallied, county officials can now move on to the work of updating the policy, as required by state statute.

“Now that our current growth policy is upheld, it’s time to make it work even better for Park County during the planned update period,” Davis said. “Community participation is the best recipe to ensure the next iteration of our growth policy is comprehensive, community-driven and will adequately protect our rural way of life amidst the next wave of growth and development.”

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David Tucker
About David Tucker

David Tucker is a freelance journalist covering conservation, recreation and the environment in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
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