By Michael Howell
The development of a Targeted Economic Development District north of Fairgrounds Road is still a real possibility, according to Ravalli County Economic Development Authority Executive Director Julie Foster. The district, if established, would be located north of Fairgrounds Road and between Old Corvallis Road and the Eastside Highway and possibly include the county-owned airport property east of there.
The exact boundaries of the proposed district have not been determined yet, but landowners in the area who have expressed an interest includes properties owned by the Bessenyey Family Trust, Harold Mildenberger and possibly a third owned by Brett and Jim Mildenberger and the county.
Progress on establishing the boundaries hit a bump in the road recently when the contract for developing the plan and establishing the boundaries was terminated. Work on the planning stages of the district began last September following the award of a CDBG grant for $30,000 to do a feasibility study. That contract with Janet Cornish of Community Development Services was terminated by mutual agreement effective November 21, 2013. In a letter to the state, the County Commissioners stated that dissatisfaction arose because a payment of $2,499.29 to CDS that was due on October 1 had not been made. That payment was subsequently made on November 27.
Foster said last Friday that she had agreed to assume those duties with CDBG funds available through RCEDA and the project will continue to move forward.
Another big hurdle facing the project, according to Commissioner Greg Chilcott, is the Department of Revenue’s interpretation of Montana law governing the establishment of TEDDs. Statute requires that the land included in a TEDD be zoned.
According to Chilcott, the state is interpreting that to mean county initiated zoning. The problem with that is the local citizen’s initiative which voters adopted requiring that all county initiated zoning be placed on the ballot. It also requires a majority vote of the electorate to approve it. Not a majority of those voting in the last election, but a majority of all the registered voters. That would mean at least 14,500 voters would have to approve it.
Chilcott maintains that the statute that requires zoning for a TEDD could be met by establishing a voluntary zoning district initiated by landowners in the district. Establishment of a voluntary zoning district would not trigger the need to place it on the ballot. He said this issue is still in the discussion stage with DOR legal staff.
Michele Crepeau, attorney for DOR, said on Monday that the Department’s understanding is based on the plain reading of the law (7-15-4279 MCA) and that it requires the area incorporated into a TEDD to be “zoned in accordance with the Growth Policy for the area.” Since Ravalli County has no Growth Policy it cannot initiate a zone that meets the legal requirement, she said.