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Bozeman's Bridger View neighborhood aims to be an example for sustainability and affordability

Emily Hay stands in her kitchen in her Bridger View condo
Olivia Weitz
Yellowstone Public Radio
Bridger View resident Emily Hay gets lots of natural light and park views from her kitchen window. She says before buying one of the homes in the neighborhood, she and her partner thought home ownership in Bozeman was out of reach.

In her new three-bedroom condo, Emily Hay makes an afternoon tea on her induction stove.

“So we’ll turn it up to like the highest, and it literally takes you know 40 seconds to boil water,” she said. “It’s a little noisy at first, but once you get used to using it it’s just so efficient."

Outside her kitchen window she can see kids playing in the snow and people walking their dogs on a path. Her condo in Bozeman's new Bridger View neighborhood is right on Story Mill Community Park.

“Once these places started going up I remember thinking like ‘wow, that would be so cool to live over there I know that will never happen, but how cool would that be’?” she said.

Hay has spent her entire adult life in Bozeman. She’s done service jobs and now works in sales at a hotel. When home prices rose during COVID – the median for a single family home is now close to $800,000 – Hay and her partner started to feel like owning a home was out of reach.

“Cuz we just didn’t see how we were ever going to be able to purchase a home at the prices that are here right now, so we were like we gotta be open to the idea of moving after 22 years of being here," she said. "And so this was kind of our saving grace, I guess."

A view of Story Mill Community Park covered in snow
Olivia Weitz
Yellowstone Public Radio
This is the view of Story Mill Community Park from Emily Hay’s back porch. The condo has close access to park paths and nearby trails to get to downtown or hiking areas nearby.

Bridger View is being regarded as one of the most sustainable in the Rocky Mountain West. The U.S. Green Building Councilsays the development is gold certified.

The neighborhood in northeast Bozeman also aims to be a model of affordability — half of the eight-acre development's 62 homes are priced below market.

"Meaning they’re priced at price points that middle income residents are able to afford,” said Christine Walker, a board member with the Headwaters Community Housing Trust, the nonprofit that helped bring forth the Bridger View concept.

The land trust manages the below market selling process. Besides optimizing land use, the below market homes are possible, Walker says, in part because of some public and private investment. Construction started in the spring of 2021; since then there's been huge demand for the 31 under-market homes.

“To be eligible to purchase a below market home you have to earn 75 percent of your income from a local business, and you have to be working at a local business,” Walker said.

Homebuyers are randomly selected in a weighted drawing. Those who have lived in the Bozeman area longer get more entries. Walker says affordability is not the only goal for Bridger View: The creators also wanted to make the homes sustainable.

“So then when you walk inside, this is when you are going to notice that it’s much quieter inside,” she said, stepping into a 1,500 square foot, 3-bedroom home.

It's quieter, she explains, because there’s triple-pane windows and about twice the amount of insulation as a standard house. Walker says this “tight envelope” is key to the heating and cooling system working well in Bozeman’s cold climate.

“The heat pump technology, here’s the mini split, so this wall unit is half of the system, the other system is outside,” she said.

Walker says the installers made some adaptations. The outside part of the heat pump is elevated, above the snow, and placed in a way where it gets more sunlight.

“And then we have a backup. You can see this cove heating, so if the temperatures get to like negative 35 degrees that if the heat pump isn’t working because it’s too cold outside there’s not any warm air to pull from this is a backup system,” she said.

A green model house in Bridger View
Olivia Weitz
Yellowstone Public Radio
One of the three-bedroom homes at Bridger View. At 1500 square feet, “They are smaller in size than what we typically find in Bozeman. Helping to make them live larger are these outdoor spaces and connection to the outdoors,” Walker said, referencing the large porch.

The city of Bozeman and NorthWestern Energy are paying attention to how well the heat pumps perform in cold weather.

The Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, a nonprofit with more than 140 utilities and member organizations, of which NorthWestern is a part, is conducting research at Bridger View that documents resident and installer experiences with heat pumps and other energy efficient technologies including heat pump water heaters. The report is anticipated to be completed around the end of this year.

Danie Williams, manager of Energy Efficiency at NorthWestern Energy, says the utility already offers incentives for some types of heat pumps. If the technology performs well at Bridger View, she says, the program could be expanded.

“Typically that means then that installation costs will come down and potentially the cost of technology itself, which allows NorthWestern to be able to offer energy efficient rebates to our customers,” she said. “ And for us to be able to promote it as an affordable way that customers can utilize energy efficient appliances in their home."

Bozeman adopted a climate plan in 2020 with a goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. The city’s sustainability manager Natalie Meyer says building efficiency is a big part of that.

“And specifically we identified that we really need all new construction to be net zero energy by 2030,” she said.

Bridger View is net zero energy ready — residents can access federal incentives to install their own solar panels. And Meyer says the city has taken steps to incentivize developers to build more neighborhoods like this.

Bozeman allows developers to receive code relaxations — in the case of Bridger View the city gave close to 20 exceptions, including smaller roads and lot sizes, in exchange for providing community benefits.

“The community benefits include things like affordable housing, energy efficiency, water conservation and a reduction in vehicle miles traveled,” Meyer said.

Christine Walker with Headwaters Community Housing Trust says she hopes Bridger View sets a standard for how neighborhoods are constructed at all income levels. The housing trust is now accepting applications for 10 below market homes, priced under $420,000, with 10 more becoming available later this year.

“So being able to build a home that is quality, lasting, durable, uses energy wisely, uses water wisely and uses the land in the most efficient manner possible,” she said.

Condo owner Emily Hay says she hasn’t received her first utility bill yet, but she thinks it’s going to be lower than the 120-year-old Sears kit home she had been renting.

For now, she’s looking forward to the social part of Bridger View — her kids getting to spend more time playing with friends at Story Mill Park.

“The social aspect of being on a park and having such a close-together neighborhood, I’ve never really had that before, so this is just really exciting,” she said.

Olivia Weitz covers Bozeman and surrounding communities in Southwest Montana for Yellowstone Public Radio. She has reported for Northwest News Network and Boise State Public Radio and previously worked at a daily print newspaper. She is a graduate of the University of Puget Sound and the Transom Story Workshop.