Yet Another Case for County-Wide Zoning in Missoula

by jhwygirl

Ahhh, the serendipity of it all. The other day, when I posted A Case for County-Wide Zoning, a few hours later, in my inbox, came copy of papers filed by John Richards in Montana’s Fourth Judicial Court right here in Missoula.

Now, some of you might remember John Richards as the developer of what was first proposed as a 219 lot subdivision up near Clearwater Junction, then what later was proposed as a 59 lot subdivision. To mitigate wildlife concerns, the second time around, he proposed a 8 foot tall electrified fence.

Well, John’s gotten more than a little upset about the two denials of his proposals.

Did I mentioned he presented them, in part, as a way to provide affordable housing?

Are you surprised?

John is suing Missoula County and Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks for his denial, citing, in part, that the County “In conditioning its approval on density without objective scientific data, the County, in effect, illegally zoned the property. As a consequence, the County has unreasonably restricted Richard’s ability to develop his own land.”

The County conditioned approval of the project on a reduction of the lots from 59 to 20 lots – a 1 per 20 acre ratio. The Comprehensive Plan designation for the property is 1 per 40.

Richards defends his 8 foot tall electrified fence as a mitigative measure, saying that he “proposed constructing a wildlife fence around the perimeter of the subdivision to negate any wildlife/human interactions. FWP objected, claiming that such a fence would disrupt the natural migratory paths of wildlife, despite the acknowledgment that the area is not a wildlife corridor. FWP failed to present any specific scientific data to support its conclusions.”

Hmmm. Seems I remember something about there being 5 threatened or endangered species within a 5 mile radius of the project area. Guess that darn FWP is supposed to keep the wildlife in some sort of defined area for the sake of Mr. Richards.

There was, in fact, a whole hell of a lot of science that went into the projects review.

Maybe Richards should add Grizzly Bears to the list of named defendants.

Make no mistake – denials of subdivisions in unzoned area – rare as they are – will result in these types of actions. How much will they cost the taxpayer?

How much will unzoned land continue to impact the citizens of the county? Will we have to approve something – anything – just to avoid lawsuits of this sort? You can bet that the solution to this lawsuit will be similar to that of Ravalli’s 4 or 5 cases that it chose to settle rather than drag on in legal battles.

We’ll see some sort of subdivision approved for Mr. Richards – more than the 20 the county recommended, but probably a little less than the second attempt at 59.

That’s my prediction, at least.

I also believe we won’t be seeing any denials anytime soon.

The only thing saving us from open-season on high density development in unzoned lands would be the still-sinking real estate market (which Missoula, it appears, is still in a bit of denial).

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