Steve Kelly

On Tuesday, January 30, the Gallatin County Commission met in Bozeman and approved an 8,000-square-foot indoor commercial tennis facility over the objections of long-time rural resident-taxpayers.

Our rural quality of life and mule deer winter range were “thrown under the bus” for yuppie colonial settlers who want an indoor commercial tennis facility in a rural, agricultural district -- vital mule deer winter range.

In an instant uncertainty and anxiety replaced a decades-long, relatively stable, relationship between the County Commission and resident-taxpayers living on the west bench of the Bridger Mountain Range.

I am ashamed of our county government and their bullying tactics, apparently aimed at deregulation, social destabilization, and seizure of rural land for the exclusive private benefit of Bozeman’s expanding ruling elite.

“New variant” totalitarianism is pathologized, weaponized and masked to conceal its true political essence. To exist, it must not appear as authoritarian. It simulates beneficence responding to a legitimate “growth crisis” or “homeless crisis,” any “emergency” capable of driving anxious commoners into a frantic state of order-following panic.

Self-righteous “new variants,” i.e. our commissioners, constantly remind themselves and each other that they’re the true “defenders of democracy” as they drive us like livestock down the commercial path to colonial conquest.

On February 1, 1996, the Gallatin County Commission approved the Middle Cottonwood Zoning District and Regulation but insisted that our zoning regulation include a section providing for “Conditional Use Permits” (CUP), which was defined as follows: “…specific uses, other than those specifically permitted in each District or Zone, which may be appropriate under certain safeguards or conditions.”

The Zoning District was formed to stop the rapid expansion of residential subdivisions. Huge tracts of farmland were being converted into hundreds of ‘McMansions’ on 1-acre lots.

Since 1996, commissioners generally honored and respected the values, intent, and purposes of our zoning regulation. The plan was to 1) limit density to preserve wildlife habitat and prevent overcrowding, 2) ensure adequate water quality and quantity, and 3) preserve agricultural lands -- all key constituent elements one associates with a quiet, slow-paced rural environment.

Mule deer winter range is explicitly featured and protected with a density limit of 40 acres per parcel of record on February 1, 1994.

One commercial exemption (CUP) just cancelled out 28 years of trust and mutual respect by seriously undercutting the regulatory mechanisms in place to protect agricultural land, mule deer winter range and the rural atmosphere.

CUPs, unavoidably, cause problems. They appear on the surface like other zoning mechanisms, such as special exemptions and variances. However, CUPs function and operate differently.

Their primary purpose is to provide flexibility. True, flexibility can provide public benefits (schools, churches, etc.), but flexibility also hands great power and discretion to county commissioners to grant or deny undesirable/unwanted land uses. County government has been asleep at the wheel, operating with no wildlife standards, “moving fast and break things” and maximizing tax revenue at the expense of rural resident-taxpayers and wildlife.

Commissioners are signaling their hegemonic goals to the masses by doubling down on discretionary power, which threatens wildlife, rural residents, and their land.

Rural residents want recognition, greater respect, and the bad attitude to cease. Stand up and join the resistance against “new variant” totalitarianism or prepare to be herded about on “all fours” among the sheep, goats, and cattle.

Steve Kelly is an artist, gardener and environmental activist who lives in Bozeman, Montana.