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Bozeman housing survey

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By Tom Boyd Sonoran Institute

BOZEMAN – Bozeman residents are willing to pay 20.1 percent more per square foot for homes located near shops, schools, parks and restaurants, according to a new market study released by the nonprofit Sonoran Institute.

A survey within the same report found that 90 percent of residents said they wanted a home within an easy walk of other places in the community.

The new, 60-page Sonoran Institute study of western U.S. housing trends focused on six communities in the region: Bozeman; Boise, Idaho; Buena Vista, Colo.; Eagle, Colo.; Carbondale, Colo.; and Teton County, Idaho.

“Since the post-WWII era, we’ve been building housing and infrastructure that’s very suburban in character,” said Randy Carpenter, director of the Sonoran Institute’s Northern Rockies Program in Bozeman. “The study shows there is a growing demand for something different.”

In the six communities studied, the average price per square foot for what the Sonoran Institute deems “compact, walkable development (CWD)” was 18.5 percent higher than other types of housing between the years 2000 and 2009. That figure was 20.1 percent in Bozeman.

“People in the Rockies want it all: easy access to the outdoors and recreation, plus the activity and convenience of living in town and being able to walk to shops and restaurants,” said Clark Anderson, the Sonoran Institute western Colorado program director.

“Many communities in the Rockies have the potential to offer both, but there isn’t really a lot of housing product that responds to this demand – it’s a largely untapped market.”

Rob Pertzborn, of Intrinsic Architecture in Bozeman, agrees. Pertzborn said more compact, walkable development was coming online right before the Great Recession brought everything to a screeching halt in 2008. As the market improves, he’d like to see a greater variety of housing product offered.
“In the end, it’s a quality of life thing, and people just don’t necessarily know it until you can show them,” said Pertzborn, who’s been involved in a range of projects during his 23 years in Bozeman. “Where you live profoundly affects your life.”
For that reason, Pertzborn points out, people will still pay significantly more to be near downtown. A 60 by 40 lot with an alley goes for about $250,000 in town, Pertzborn said, while the same lot in a subdivision on the outskirts of town costs about $60,000.
“A person who lives up Bridger Canyon wakes up every morning and sees an elk herd go by and the mountains are beautiful and all of that, and there’s nothing wrong with that,” Pertzborn said. “But it’s just different. If you live in town in what I call staggering distance of Main Street, you might be more likely to be on the art committee at the library or your kids might walk to school.”
The Sonoran survey found that residents of the Rocky Mountain West prioritized living within walking distance of other places and things to do in their community than the national average. A full 90 percent of Sonoran respondents felt walkability was important or very important compared to 66 percent nationally.

And 96 percent of those surveyed by the Sonoran Institute cited the exercise and health benefits or walkability as being important or very important.

Pertzborn is currently working on reviving the Story Mill development, which was billed as a smart-growth project but fell apart because of the economy. He still thinks it can be a good example of CWD in Bozeman.
Story Mill would be built on a main trail artery on a former trailer park site on the way up to Bridger Bowl, with Trust for Public Land open space involved.
“To me it is the spot, because of all the stars that are lining up there, that we might be able to not just build tiny affordable homes, but homes that people of mixed incomes will want to live in,” Pertzborn said. “That is totally key, and then that they want to live next to each other.”
The Sonoran study goes on to catalogue a number of qualities found in compact, walkable developments that residents of Bozeman and the five other communities found desirable. The study also indicates there’s a lack of such housing around the West. Sixty percent of survey respondents felt they had few or very few options that reflected their needs and preferences.

To read the entire study, entitled “Reset: Assessing the future housing market in the Rocky Mountain West” and conducted by Economic & Planning Systems Inc., go to

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