By Michael Howell
The County Commissioners recently settled a lawsuit brought by Big Sky Development, Group, LLC that has been crawling through the court since August of 2008. The County agreed to pay the developer $675,000. The payments are scheduled beginning with two consecutive $250,000 payments followed by a series of $40,000 payments.
The developer sued the county after the commissioners denied a variance request related to the proposed Sandhill Ridge subdivision located up Eight Mile in the north valley. The case was initially tied to another subdivision proposed at the time in the same area, called Morado Mountain Estates. Both developers were being required to bring Eight Mile Road up to county standards to the point that it accesses their subdivisions. They decided to share the cost but asked for a variance related to the requirement. The Commissioners’ denial of that variance affected both developers and they both sued the county jointly at the time.
The County already reached a settlement agreement with the developer of Morado Mountain Estates, removing them from the case in 2013. In that settlement the developer was paid $300,000. The first $75,000 was paid on October 1, 2013; the next payment of $37,500 is due in July of this year and there will be three more payments of the same amount, the last being due in July 2017.
The Court initially found that the variance denial had been “arbitrary and capricious” and remanded it back to the County for re-consideration. In July of 2011, the Commissioners approved the variance and the two subdivisions.
The Court continued to deal with the case and began making some partial judgments in the case. In December 2012, the judge approved a stipulated agreement between the parties to dismiss Counts 4, 6,7,10,11,14 and 15, leaving Counts 5, 8, 9, 11 and 13. The parties continued negotiations and the settlement was reached in October 2013 removing Morado Mountain Estates from the case.
Commission Chair Greg Chilcott said, “Neither side is happy so it’s easy to assume it’s pretty equitable.” He said the County wanted to pay a lot less and “the developer wanted a lot more.” Chilcott said the county’s case took a blow when the judge ruled that the variance denial was arbitrary and capricious. He said the judge also ruled that the county had erred in procedure by not considering the subdivision proposal even though the variance necessary to it had been denied.
“That surprised us,” said Chilcott. He said earlier they had been in court over the Aspen Springs subdivision and in that case the subdivision also depended upon a variance approval. He said in that case a judge ruled that the subdivision application automatically became insufficient once the necessary variance was denied.
“So we assumed in the Big Sky Development case that we did not have to go ahead and consider the subdivision proposal after denying the necessary variance,” said Chilcott, “but in this case the judge said we should have considered it anyway.”