By Michael Howell
Efforts by the county to establish a Targeted Economic Development District north of Hamilton have slowed up as a formidable obstacle has now come more clearly into focus. It’s called zoning. According to Julie Foster, Director of the Ravalli County Economic Development Authority (RCEDA), federal regulations involved in the necessary loans and grants require that the District be zoned based on an existing Growth Policy. The County has neither.
Not only that, according to Planning Department Administrator Terry Nelson, in 2008 the County Commission adopted a resolution to the effect that any county-initiated zoning would have to go before a vote of the people. Not only that, but in 2010 a citizens’ petition was placed on the ballot and approved that not only requires any county-initiated zoning to go on the public ballot, it also requires a majority of the electorate to approve it. Not a majority of those voting in the last election, but a majority of all the registered voters.
“You’d need about 14,500 votes in favor to approve any zoning,” said Nelson. “It puts a real kink in our efforts to establish a TEDD.”
Commissioner Suzy Foss, who has been working with RCEDA and area landowners, said that she was trying to get in touch with the originators of that citizens’ petition and find out their real intent and possibly figure out a way to amend it or clarify that it was not intended to stop this sort of economic development.
To date the County has garnered a $60,000 grant to analyze the area, define some boundaries, and do some preliminary engineering work on water availability in the area. According to Foster, owners of a third piece of land in the area, Brett and Jim Mildenberger, have expressed an interest in possibly being included in the district along with property owned by Harold Mildenberger and the Bessenyey Family Trust.