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By Ed Moreth 

Resident wants to help Plains plan for growth


February 16, 2023

Despite going through cancer treatment and a consistent icy reception from the Plains Town Council, one resident continues his efforts to help guide the town’s future, but to do so he’d like input from the community itself.

As part of the town’s newly formed Community Council, Charles Bickenheuser wants to form a focus group from a sampling of the Plains population in order to get some insight into town residents’ experiences, hopes, likes, and dislikes of the town and its immediate surrounding area and how they’d like to see it grow.

Bickenheuser would like to get Plains residents together at the Paradise Center on Saturday, Feb. 25, 1-4 p.m. to recruit people for the first focus group session. Focus group participation is by invitation only, he said. Those interested can reach him at (406) 242-0454 or [email protected]. The reason for the invitation only is to get a varied random sample of people for the study.

“Community members' experiences, thoughts, and hopes for the future are critical to building a growth policy that reflects the community,” said the 76-year-old retired adjunct professor, who added that he needs to recruit a minimum of 24 people — based on the population of Plains — to get an accurate reading. He said that a focus group study will aid the council and the mayor in determining how the average resident would like to see the town grow.

“It’s going to grow, that’s a fact. Montana is one of the top three states for people moving in over the last three years,” said Bickenheuser. The role of a focus group, he said, is to determine what issues are of a concern to the general population. “The growth is coming and we can direct how the town looks within the next 10 or 15 years and if we do nothing, other people will decide for us,” said Bickenheuser. The focus group would serve as a community voice as a new Plains growth policy is written. “Growth policies significantly impact the development of private land and local land usage.” He said that public involvement is critical in formulating those policies.

Bickenheuser has been trying to work with town council members for more than two years, but has made little headway. In December, the council approved, reluctantly, to allow him to form a volunteer Community Council, which would collect data for a growth plan and provide it to the Plains Planning Board. “The focus group will have 25-30 members who will work in small groups of four to five people,” said Bickenheuser, who added that each group would discuss and write on large paper pads to share their responses to four questions that Bickenheuser has written. All of the answers would be included in the growth policy.

“One of the most straightforward ways to promote growth management at the local level is through growth policies. A growth policy serves as a comprehensive plan to guide decisions about development and public investments. It is implemented through regulatory tools, such as design standards and financing tools, such as development exactions,” he said.

He invited members of the town council and the mayor to the Saturday meeting.

For the focus group meeting, Bickenheuser has come up with four standard questions: What do you like about the Town of Plains and the local area? What would you like to see in the Town of Plains and the local area in the next 5, 10, and 15 years? Describe your relationship to the local valleys, mountains, rivers, streams, and skies throughout the seasons. What do you not like about the Town of Plains and the local area?

Bickenheuser paid for the rental use of the center and plans to pay mailing costs for any additional surveys to town residents. He had requested that the town flip the bill of around $400, but received no reply.


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