by Nathan Boddy
The City of Hamilton recently unveiled an important first product in its efforts to complete a new Growth Policy by mid-2022. That first milestone is the Existing Conditions report, which is available for download on the website, www.envisionhamilton.com.
The Existing Conditions report is the summary of a fact finding mission that began last summer and involved numerous interviews, online questionnaires, and workshops. Residents were asked a wide variety of questions ranging from what they like about Hamilton to which opportunities residents feel the city should focus on in the future. The three biggest themes that emerged from the study are: being proactive to growth, maintaining a small-town character, and strengthening self-reliance and resilience.
The first of those themes was shown to be foremost on people’s minds. According to the report, Hamilton’s population is anticipated to increase 17% over the next decade, adding a potential 900 new faces to town. This growth, which has been in high gear since the COVID-19 pandemic shook many people free of their moorings in locations outside of Montana, has meant a serious housing shortage for Hamilton. Matthew Rohrbach, City Planner for Hamilton, says that the housing situation was clearly an important part of people’s response during the fact-finding period of the last few months.
“It’s what we hear from people when we go out into the community,” says Rohrbach. “People can’t find a home to buy, people can’t afford a home, employers can’t hire people because they can’t find housing.”
Nonetheless, the ultimate goal of city officials and participants is not just detailing on-the-ground conditions as of fall, 2021. The end result of these efforts will be a Growth Policy which, hopefully, can aid in decisions and directions that the City of Hamilton will be facing in the years to come. The City’s current growth policy was adopted in 2015, and state law requires that growth policies be reviewed every five years. Given the rapid changes in Western Montana in the last year and a half, the City concluded that an update was needed.
The consulting firm Logan Simpson, which compiled the report, justifies the need for an updated Growth Policy this way. “The (Policy) is a big-picture, long-range public policy document that guides the City’s decision-making on land use, transportation, public infrastructure, and a variety of other topics. (It) sets goals and objectives for how Hamilton intends to address future needs.”
City Planner Rohrbach adds that the Growth Policy, “is not a regulatory document.” Growth policies are intended to pre-position a community to be prepared for change. Municipalities have a lot on their plate when handling growth pressures, such as where and how to place things like water lines, roads, parks, sewer, and still be sure that the city will be able to service and maintain that infrastructure well into the future. Despite what some participants may desire, simply denying growth is not a possibility.
“We heard from (some) people that they don’t want growth,” says Rohrbach. But he wants to be clear that, “This plan is not intended to spur growth. This plan is an attempt to try and get ahead of that growth.” He also points out that growth is inevitable as many people have discovered Hamilton, Montana, and will continue to do so. With a well-organized Growth Policy in place, says Rohrbach, “if new growth does happen, it (won’t) come as a shock.”
More events are planned which will aim to take the information provided by the Existing Conditions document, and begin to translate them into the Growth Policy. First will be a trio of in-person workshops to be held at Hamilton City Hall on Tuesday, November 9th at 9 a.m., 12 p.m. and 6 p.m. Virtual workshops will be held via Zoom on Wednesday, November 17th at 12 p.m., and Thursday, November 18th at 6 p.m. Also, those who wish to share their comments are encouraged to do so on the Envision Hamilton website.