By Joseph T. O’Connor Big Sky Weekly Editor

BIG SKY – At the third housing exchange meeting on April 24, attendees stressed the importance of greater community involvement through letters to Big Sky’s Resort Tax Board and filling out an online housing survey, while subgroups updated first-time attendees on minutes from the first two meetings.

Held in Ophir School’s cafeteria at 6:30 p.m. to allow for wider community participation, the meeting, attended by 23 people, began with Big Sky Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kitty Clemens’ overview of the previous two ideas exchanges.

The Chamber applied for $80,000 in resort tax funding on April 3 for a market assessment and recommendation for action on the area, Clemens said. The money would go toward attorneys, engineers and real estate economists to perform the study, though a request for proposal has yet to be submitted. Until RTB makes a decision about the funding, the ideas exchange meetings will continue, as subgroups meet and report on their findings.

RTB member Mike Scholz said if Clemens hoped to get RTB approval, she would need to submit an RFP and know who will perform the study by May 8, when the board will host a question and answer session for groups seeking funds.

“When you go to the tax board, you’re competing with everyone else [for funding],” Scholz said during a phone interview. Attending the meeting as a “concerned citizen” rather than an RTB representative, Scholz recognizes housing is a problem in Big Sky. “We’ve got to get this [housing issue] solved, or it will stop our economic growth.”

Clemens, who said she’ll be ready for the Q and A, also explained that the three subcommittees formed at the second meeting, on March 27, meet separately to address the community’s housing inventory, development finance options and planning and zoning details for further housing development in the Big Sky area, which has been plagued for years with a shortage of sustainable, affordable housing.

Representing the zoning subcommittee, Mindy Nowakowski, who works in planning and development at Moonlight Basin Resort, reported that the subcommittee had determined potential development areas, and that these should be spread out around Big Sky rather than in one central location. She said RTB funding is critical to the process, referring to the area’s housing problem as a “crisis.”

“I agree that the economic development and stability of this community is dependent on the availability of housing,” Nowakowski said in an email. “How can we grow as a community if there is nowhere for young families to live who are the future business owners, educators and young professionals, and who ultimately will be the future of this community?”

At the meeting, Clemens also broke down results from a housing survey, which was provided to area employees and requested their feedback on where they currently live, their median income and where they spend their money.

Of 164 respondents, 80 percent live in Big Sky, and 83 percent reported housing there was “very difficult” or “almost impossible” to find, according to the survey, which is still available online at research.net/s/bigsky.

Clemens stressed the importance of utilizing land already entitled for development in Big Sky, before seeking additional building space.

“As you grow up, you grow inward before you grow out,” she said.

The next housing ideas exchange meeting will take place on May 22, time and place to be determined.