On July 3rd, our RavalliCounty commissioners, by a 5-0 vote, “conditionally” approved the preliminary plat for the Legacy Ranch subdivision submitted by Territorial Landworks. For background, here is a link to the commissioners’ draft decision, and additional links to newspaper stories and opinion pieces.
While Bitterrooters for Planning was disappointed in the decision, we fully expected it. Since their election in 2010, our BOCC and the Planning Department have worked diligently to put in place policies and regulations that virtually ensure the County will at least conditionally approve a developer’s preliminary plat application. As you read the draft decision, think about the following points:
- All of the most important issues like potential impacts on water quality, sewage, pollution, traffic, and water rights are kicked down the road to State agencies. In the face of intense concern, our planning board, our commissioners, and the developer all pointed out that the regulations do not require local consideration of these issues. So they elected to abandon their responsibility to the health and safety of the residents of this valley in favor of greasing the skids for the developer.
- Where is your input? The BOCC, the Planning Department, and Territorial Landworks have all been fond of mentioning the number of hours spent listening to public input. And indeed, the local community was quite vocal in their reasoned objections and provided our officials with a wealth of information not supplied by the developer. But where is the evidence they considered such testimony as anything but a nuisance? The only objections and concerns of yours that they discussed were the ones they and the developer unilaterally deemed “pertinent”. Of those that they did discuss, ALL were either dismissed out of hand or condescendedly “mitigated” through unenforceable “covenants” and “notices”.
- Who is in control? At both state and county levels, we have been suffering the consequences of an ultra-conservative ideology that glorifies individual freedoms and private property rights. Resulting policies and regulations reject societal controls and community needs as irrelevant and unnecessary. Thus, your community has been excluded from having a say in the future of our valley. Put another way, their ideology is more important than your concerns. Evidence?
- In 2008, in the wake of a well-orchestrated disinformation campaign promoted by true believers and funded by developers, people in the Bitterroot were convinced to repeal the one county document that could have saved us the grief of Legacy and Flatiron—our Growth Policy.
- In 2010, with the same kind of well-orchestrated disinformation campaign, people were convinced to vote for three extreme-right ideologues who openly courted developers by vowing to do their bidding.
- In 2012, despite well-seasoned, opposition candidates, people again voted, in large numbers, for the status quo, going so far this time as to vote for a candidate who openly managed a website that advocated for “constitutional” cop-killing.
If we are to succeed in reversing such horrible land-use decisions as Legacy Ranch and Flatiron it is imperative that we understand why this happened, and pay attention.
What Do We Do Now?
- The official final decision will be released in a week or two. Our lawyers will review that decision as soon as it is available and then make a determination regarding litigation.
- Because our Planning Department and BOCC elected to not weigh in on many substantive issues, but passed them on to DEQ, DNRC, and MDT instead, it is now up to concerned citizens to take the fight to Helena. No one else is looking out for us. Watch this site and our Facebook page for information on how to get involved in this effort. We will coordinate with other groups to make sure we are heard in this process.
- In the longer term, both state and local land-use regulations must be revised in order to protect our land, resources, and culture from exploitation by speculators. We need to begin promoting appropriate legislation. Watch this site and our Facebook page to find out how to participate in this effort. We will want to coordinate with other groups to work with the governor’s office, appropriate state agencies and legislators on such legislation.
- In the medium term, we need to establish a Growth Policy as a basis for reasonable land-use planning. It is unconscionable that our county officials have worked hard to keep citizens from having a say in how development occurs. Bitterrooters for Planning will coordinate with other groups to start this effort.
- Ultimately, it is a movement by the citizens of the valley who will make the difference. We encourage you to become involved and demand better from our local government. Visit us frequently on this website or follow developments on Facebook.