By Michael Howell
The Ravalli County Commissioners unanimously approved the controversial Legacy Ranch subdivision last Tuesday, July 2. The 400-acre parcel located between Porter Hill Road and Dry Gulch Road along the Eastside Highway is proposed to be divided into 509 Lots including single family residential, condominiums and commercial units. The subdivision is proposed to take place in 15 phases over 30 years, with the first phase scheduled for completion by January 31, 2019. Phase 2 would be completed by 2023, and the remaining phases 3 to 15 every two years after that.
The total of 647 living units is estimated to add about 2.7 people per household to the population for a total of 1,725 new residents in the area at build-out. It is estimated to increase traffic on the Eastside Highway by 9,271 automobile trips per day. Residents of the subdivision will share a water system based on three communal wells. Lawns will be irrigated by existing water rights from a ditch and spring. Some areas of the subdivision will share community septic systems while over 200 homes will be on individual septics. The west boundary of the subdivision is located within 460 feet of the Bitterroot River and borders the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge.
Following three meetings at which public comment was taken, most of which was in opposition to the subdivision, the Commissioners began their own deliberations with the help of Montana Association of Counties (MACo) attorney Allen McCormick.
The first day of deliberations was fraught with confusion as the Board struggled with the review procedures. An initial draft of considerations to be made concerning the state’s seven criteria led to confusion as McCormick pointed out that many of the facts listed were actually conclusions of law and many of the conclusions of law were actually just facts. The Commission also struggled with the proper language for expressing their final conclusions about each criteria. McCormick continued to provide assistance in distinguishing facts from conclusions, and vice versa, throughout the process.
Once the Commissioners got the hang of it they proceeded methodically and tediously through each of the state’s criteria which includes examination of potentially significant negative effects on agriculture and adjacent agricultural operations, on agricultural water user facilities, on local services, on the natural environment, on wildlife, on wildlife habitat and on public health and safety. In each case the Commissioners came to consensus that the subdivision did pose significant potentially negative impacts, but they also found that those potential impacts had been sufficiently mitigated by various covenants and conditions and notifications. Over 70 conditions of approval have been placed on the subdivision as well as numerous notifications to property purchasers.