The Legacy Ranch Subdivision was originally denied approval retroactively as a result of the passage of the “One house per Two Acres” petition of November 2006. A lawsuit was filed (Lords, et al. vs. Ravalli County on 5 January 2007 and updated on 13 July 2012) in Montana District Court. Subsequently the case was moved to Federal Court on 17 June 2008 as Willoughby Development Corporation, et al., vs. Ravalli County (case No. 0835517). The Legacy Ranch Corporation was a participant.
The case was heard by the Federal 9th Circuit Court which ruled in favor of Willoughby, et al., and ‘Two for One’ was held to not apply to the plaintiffs and was the basis for Legacy Ranch to resubmit its development proposal.
The Legacy Ranch proposal was resubmitted to Ravalli County officials for reconsideration and was reviewed by the Ravalli County Planning Staff and the Planning Board for compliance with Montana law and environmental sufficiency.
The role of the Planning Board (PB) is to provide a preliminary assessment of subdivisions only in an advisory capacity. In this initial effort the PB uses the same criteria that the Ravalli County Board of Commissioners (RCBC) will use to either approve or deny a subdivision The PB and RCBC must follow subdivision criteria provided by state law, which are:
- Effects on adjacent agricultural operations
- Effects on agricultural water user facilities
- Effects on local services
- Effects on natural environment
- Effects on wildlife
- Effects on wildlife habitat
- Effects on public health and safety
Each and every legal requirement must be met before the PB issues its recommendation which will include all proposed mitigation ( PB will have reviewed all information provided by the developer and have held public meetings).
The obvious goal is to provide necessary and correct information to the RCBC based upon law and to avoid lawsuits against the county. This aspect is of great significance in consequence of RCBC decisions prior to 2011 (before the currently seated Commissioners were elected, or reelected) which have the appearance of incompetence and dereliction of duty and have resulted in court-ordered settlements. Settlement costs are paid out of property tax money which may require special levies or an increase in property taxes.
For example, RCBC decisions in which subdivisions were denied or inappropriate conditions were imposed cost the county (taxpayers) $572,000 – paid in 2009 and 2010. Recently the RCBC settled with Morado Mountain Estates for $300,000 from a 2007 RCBC decision. The Big Sky Development Group, LLC case from a 2008 lawsuit has not yet been settled and will likely be several times greater than the Morado
Estates settlement. Aside from the settlement costs these projects will probably go forward. These settlement costs do not include attorney fees and Planning Department costs related to subdivision review and processing issues.
– Ground water flow analysis shows that approximately 105 acres of the wildlife refuge is down gradient (down slope) of the Legacy Ranch project – less than 4% of the total land area of the refuge.
– Most of the water pumped for domestic (household) usage (90%) will be recycled back into the ground water.
– Water from the supply ditch and spring will be available for irrigation under existing water rights.
– Each phase of subdivision implementation will need approval by County Commissioners and Montana Department of Environmental Quality.
V. A. Ciliberti