FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Jim Rokosch
Court awards legal fees in Legacy Ranch lawsuit to Bitterrooters for Planning for the group’s efforts to “guard the guardians”
A District Court has awarded legal fees to Bitterrooters for Planning following a land development lawsuit the non-profit organization brought against the board of Ravalli County Commissionersin 2013.
The award of legal fees comes in the wake of BfP’s successful Legacy Ranch development lawsuit. The court voided the commissioners’ approval of the 659-unit residential and commercial development planned near the Lee Metcalf Wildlife Refuge in Stevensville last year. BfP subsequently petitioned the court for legal fees in that case.
The court noted that BfP’s “unrelenting efforts to participate in the public process to try to convince the Commissioners that the Legacy Ranch 30-year phasing build out proposal constituted illegal public policy was thoroughly meritorious.”
BfP argued that forcing a non-profit organization to incur substantial litigation costs when the government fails to enforce public benefit laws creates a substantial injustice, and the court agreed. The court also agreed with BfP that “the Commissioners should pay for their own failure to prepare an adequate EA” and for “approving a near four decade build out in direct violation of Montana law.”
Referring to the state constitutional guarantee of a clean and healthful environment, the court ruled that BfP sued the county commissioners “to vindicate public participation rights and public policy interests applicable to all Montana’s citizens. No other entity, public or private, showed a willingness to hold the Commissioners accountable under the law. The burden of this enforcement action fell squarely and solely on the shoulders of BfP.”
The lawsuit sends a strong message to all Montana county governments to take a hard look at the public health and environmental impacts of land developments, said BfP Executive Director Jim Rokosch. “Citizen voices matter”, he said, “and in this case, the commissioners dogged adherence to their misguided view of private property rights continues to rack up costs to taxpayers.”
“This is a wake up call, not only for governments, but for citizens as well,” he added. “Every right we have comes with a responsibility, and that responsibility requires citizens to maintain a clean and healthful environment and to participate in the decision-making processes of our governments.”
Quoting from the court order, Rokosch said it is incumbent upon private citizens to exercise their citizenship by engaging in public policy decisions in order to “guard the guardians”. He added, “Citizens empower government officials to guard the public’s interests and the public trust. When those officials abuse that trust, they need to be taken to task. As Thomas Jefferson told us many years ago, “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance””.
BfP members volunteered many years and thousands of hours, and invested significant funds to bring evidence to the county commissioners about the illegality of Legacy Ranch as proposed before filing the lawsuit.
BfP, a non-profit member organization established in 1995, works for common sense land use laws, and keeping government officials accountable to those laws.
Read the entire document below
Bitterrooters for Planning wins a major lawsuit against Ravalli County
Local non-profit advocacy group Bitterrooters for Planning won a significant legal victory with a July 31 court ruling that nullified county approval of the largest residential subdivision in Ravalli County’s history.
B4P challenged Ravalli County’s August 2014 approval of the 639-home Legacy Ranch subdivision adjacent to the Lee Metcalf Wildlife Refuge in Stevensville.
Read more…. Read more…Legacy_Ranch_OPINIONANDORDER.pdf
This is an urgent plea for financial support to fight the Legacy Ranch Subdivision and, ultimately, to put citizens back in charge of how development occurs in our BitterrootValley. Developers and speculators cannot be permitted to run rampant. If you value the open spaces and lack of congestion that characterize our BitterrootValley, this is exactly the time to step up and protect it.
After careful examination of the record, and after consultation with counsel, we believe the Commissioners’ Legacy Ranch decision contains numerous violations of law, violations of the Montana and US Constitutions, egregious procedural errors, and arbitrary and capricious behavior. We filed suit in District Court on August 10th, 2013 asking the judge to declare the approval illegal and to order a new application be submitted that follows the law.
Perhaps even more important, we intend to be actively engaged in state agency reviews of Legacy Ranch and, regardless of the outcome, to challenge the substance of State subdivision regulations, RavalliCounty regulations, and state agency review procedures through additional litigation. Bitterrooters for Planning intends to pursue these issues to the highest level.
This movement to take back control of our valley will require substantial commitment of volunteer time and a significant war-chest. Though we understand that individual circumstances vary, we are asking for minimum contributions of $100. If you can do more, bless you. If you have to do less, give what you can and bless you. Please make out your checks to Bitterrooters for Planning and return to:
Bitterrooters for Planning
PO Box 505
Your help now is critical to all that we are committed to in our campaign to preserve our irreplaceable quality of life in our valley.
Kelsey Milner, President
If you have been following the story, you know that Bitterrooters for Planning filed suit in District Court last Tuesday over the Ravalli County BOCC approval of the preliminary plat for the proposed Legacy Ranch subdivision.
The lawsuit document(s) are contained in the Legacy Ranch page or click here.
Our suit asks for: (1) a declaratory judgement that the BOCC’s August 14, 2013 Preliminary Plat decision approving the Legacy Ranch Subdivision is contrary to law for the reasons detailed in the suit, and (2) an order setting aside the BOCC’s decision and directing the BOCC to require the subdivider to submit a new preliminary plat application and to comply with all requirements of the Montana subdivision and Platting Act and all applicable law before reaching a decision approving or denying the preliminary plat.
This lawsuit should be viewed as just a beginning. The anti-government, anti-planning, anti-community, private property rights at all costs, ideology currently holding sway in our local government is a recipe for disaster and must be replaced. While there may be additional lawsuits in the future, the real solution is in electing quality persons to the commission, securing a real Growth Policy, and in modifying our rules and regulations to protect the people rather than the developer!
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.
Commissioners’ draft decision
BFP response letter
Bitterroot Star article
Ravalli Republic story
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.
Ravalli County commissioners to continue Legacy Ranch deliberations
This is a reminder that the BOCC public hearing on Legacy Ranch will continue this Thursday at 1:00 pm in the Commissioner’s conference room on the 3rd floor, 215 South 4th street in Hamilton. The BOCC could make their decision on Thursday, but the hearing is extended to Friday, if needed.
At the previous session of this hearing on June 11th, the commissioners and the developer agreed that more time was needed to review submitted evidence and comments relative to the review criteria. This was at least partially because BFP has retained legal counsel (Jack Tuholske and Matt Clifford) and made it clear we will not allow this travesty to proceed without a fight. In response to BFP efforts and the general community-wide outcry opposing Legacy, the commissioners have also retained legal counsel to guide them and are proceeding very carefully! It is not clear whether their lawyer fees will be paid by MACO or by the County.
Every member of Bitterrooters for Planning should pay close attention to the commissioner’s deliberations on Thursday. You will see clearly how the subdivision regulations designed by our commissioners assure that preliminary plat applications are, at a minimum, approved with conditions if the developer has sufficient time and money. You will also see how really important, substantive, issues like traffic impacts, impacts on water quality and quantity, sewage disposal, etc are “kicked down the road” to DNRC, DEQ, and MDT. And, not least, you will understand that your voice has been minimized, that community values and rights are irrelevant, and that cumulative effects do not exist.
So, please attend the hearing if at all possible. Regardless of the BOCC decision, BFP is committed to pursuing comprehensive land-use planning in Ravalli County and we need as many folks as possible to get informed and motivated!
See you Thursday,
P.S. I submitted a Valley Viewpoint to the Republic last week. Check out the comments.
The County Commissioners and Territorial Landworks have once again changed the time of the commissioners’ hearing on Legacy Ranch. It is now scheduled as follows:
June 3rd, Monday, Commissioners Conference Room 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
June 3rd, Monday, Lone Rock School Gym 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
June 4, Tuesday, Commissioners Conference Room 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (Continued if needed)
June 5, Wednesday, Commissioners Conference Room 9:00 – 5:00 p.m. (Continued if needed)
Please check this site frequently for information regarding continuing efforts to stop the Legacy Ranch subdivision.
The Ravalli County Commissioners have postponed their hearing on the Legacy Ranch Subdivision until May 30th. According to the Planning Deparetment, the developer agreed to an extension due to insufficient time for the Planning Department to prepare their recommendation and documentation for submission to the Commissioners.
To see the announcement visit:
Note the Lone Rock location is not set due to conflicts with school functions on that date. Stay tuned.
AMENDED 4/23/13: The Board of County Commissioners have scheduled a public hearing regarding the Legacy Ranch Major Subdivision proposal for the following date:
Thursday, May 30, 2013 from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM
Thursday, May 30, 2013 from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM @ Lone Rock (locationPENDING)
Friday, May 31, 2013 from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM – IF NEEDED
Monday, June 03, 2013 from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM – IF NEEDED
A decision on the Legacy Ranch subdivision could be reached this month. There are several critical meetings that you need to reserve on your calendar. No public comment will be accepted at the Planning Board meeting but it is essential that we show that we are paying attention! The most important meeting for submitting comment is the one on April 25th. Keep in mind that the commissioners will close comment as soon as no more comments are submitted at a given meeting.
- April 17 Planning Board decision and recommendation to Commissioners on Legacy Ranch proposal. Commissioners conference room. 2 pm.
- April 22 Commissioners walk-through of Legacy Ranch site. 9 am.
- April 25 Public hearing on Legacy Ranch Proposal. Commissioners conference room. 9 am to 3 pm.
- April 25 Continuation of public comment in Lone Rock gym. 6 pm to 9 pm.
- April 26 Continuation of public comment if needed. Commissioners’ conference room. 9 am to 5 pm.
- April 29 Continuation of public comment if needed. Commissioners’ conference room. 9 am to 5 pm.