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County settles with Morado Mountain Estates for $300k

By Michael Howell

The Ravalli County Commissioners decided unanimously at a meeting last week to pay out $300,000 to Morado Mountain Estates LLC as part of a settlement agreement over a lawsuit claiming that the county improperly denied the subdivision request made in 2007.

The lawsuit was filed in 2008 by both the Big Sky Development Group LLC and Morado Mountain Estates. Big Sky Development was proposing to create 35 single family residences called the Sandhill Ridge Subdivision. The Morado Mountain Estates proposal was a 58-lot major subdivision. Both projects were located near each other up Eight Mile Creek Road.

In order to meet county regulations the developers were required to bring all access roads up to county standards. The developers asked for a variance from that rule, arguing that it was impossible in this case. They argued that the cost of all the improvements was prohibitive, approaching an estimated cost in excess of $4 million. They also argued that, even if they were able to afford the improvements and even if it was legal to require it, it would not be possible due to the 60 foot easement requirement since so many landowners along the route were unwilling to sell the necessary easement.

The developers asked for a variance from the requirement that would allow road improvements within the existing right of way. That variance request was denied and subsequently the subdivision applications were determined to be insufficient.

Both developers sued and in December 2010, the District Court issued an order on the first three counts, remanding the subdivision and variance request back to the commissioners for reconsideration. In July of 2011, another set of commissioners approved the variance requests and subdivision proposals.

In 2012, the Court denied the developer’s request for summary judgment on the request for declaratory relief but accepted a stipulated agreement between the parties to dismiss seven counts in the suit but retain five counts for further consideration.

At this point Morado Mountain Estates has agreed to drop out of the lawsuit for a $300,000 settlement payment, but Big Sky Development’s claims would remain active.

In the settlement, the County agrees to pay the Polson-based company $80,000 by May 1, 2013, another $70,000 by October 2013 and $37,500 in July of each year for the next four years. The total payment would be $300,000 with no interest accruing.

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