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Stop Sprawl
Fall 2000 Sprawl Report

States at a Glance: Montana

The Great Northern Project
Town Reclaims Unused Space
Shiloh Interchange
Developer's Pet Project Leads to Sprawl

The Great Northern Project
Town Reclaims Unused Space

Development in Helena is booming. In 1990, there was $15 million worth of new construction in the town. In 1998, that number tripled. With all this construction going on, the pressure to sprawl can be intense. Fortunately, developments like the Great Northern Project, designed by the architecture firm of Dowling-Tintinger, show that smart growth can help even rapidly growing places curb sprawl.

This urban revitalization project, which won the American Institute of Architects of Montana award in 1998, is being developed on 11 acres of vacant industrial land just north of the downtown area. Great Northern features homes, office space and green space galore -- all within a walkable environment. The proximity to jobs, stores and nearby Carroll College means that residents can enjoy easy access to work, school and other necessities.

The projects within the development exemplify smart-growth design principles. To encourage an active streetscape, buildings are required to rent at least 75 percent of their ground floor to retail-type businesses. Second and third floors can be retail space or office space, and living units are encouraged on the top floors.

To help preserve open space, the city of Helena is creating a 20-acre park that will be connected to the downtown through a pedestrian path. Public transportation also serves the area, giving residents and workers alike a range of transportation choices.

Perhaps most importantly, the developers conducted an extensive public-consultation process to ensure that the new development will meet the needs of the community. Some of the unique features, such as the hand-carved, all-weather carousel, are the result of ideas that flowed from public discussions. The Great Northern Project may herald the start of a new gold rush for Helena -- one that will create jobs and build community while slowing the growth of sprawl.

Shiloh Interchange
Developer's Pet Project Leads to Sprawl

After the Montana Department of Transportation completes the I-90 Shiloh interchange, the small town of Laurel, just west of Billings, will never be the same. What is now a site for some of the best farm land in the state will soon become strip malls, subdivisions and sprawling development. This project will propel Billings' sprawl westward into the more rural areas of the state. In fact, the interchange is situated in such a way as to practically guarantee that the town of Laurel and the city of Billings will sprawl into one another.

The interchange, created at the behest of a local developer, is only five miles from another exit. Although the ostensible reason for this road project is to relieve traffic congestion, it is really meant to encourage more development.

With careful planning, road projects can serve to actively support the vitality of city centers, ensuring that sprawl is kept to a minimum. Unfortunately the Shiloh interchange will do the opposite by destroying open space, creating unneeded development and bringing more traffic to this area of Montana.

States at a Glance | Introduction | Resources | Acknowledgments

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