Zoning won’t dictate, but help mitigate impacts

Tuesday, November 19, 2019


In March, when I first heard about the proposed business park just north of Gardiner, I thought the idea made a lot of sense.

The town, struggling with a lack of housing stock, seemed to need space beyond its already established footprint. But it’s largely surrounded by public land, so there’s very little room for any growth. If they could just create an opportunity for some businesses a few miles north and build some housing, then boom, that’s one easy solution for Gardiner’s seemingly overwhelming problem.

Over the past couple months, I’ve driven to and from Gardiner in the dark a number of times, and each time I am filled with a deep gnawing feeling of foolishness. The new Sinclair gas station is a blinding presence, brightly illuminating the once-peaceful sky. I would wager the light pollution even reaches into Yellowstone National Park. It’s literally glaring at me that the new construction had impacts I didn’t initially think about.

Park County needs a tool to address impacts from development like the Sinclair, and this week, the Park County Planning Board will unveil a potential solution: county-wide zoning. The zoning regulations will not dictate what you can do with your land, but instead, make sure that any impacts associated with use — whether that’s polluting the water or interfering with the night sky — are mitigated.

Yes, Park County is still rural. Working landscapes help protect habitat and the night sky, but for how much longer? Perhaps only as long as it’s economical to do so. I am glad Park County is thinking about proactive ways to address these impacts. If the citizens of Park County don’t have access to these tools, developers will end up dictating what our community becomes.

We shouldn’t think of zoning as preventing landowners from building a gas station on their land, but maybe it could encourage them to turn down the lights a bit at night.

Johnathan Hettinger