The Ravalli County Planning Board gave a thumbs-up to the Legacy Ranch subdivision April 18, recommending that the county commission approve the proposal despite overwhelmingly critical public comment. Now opponents are redoubling efforts to quash a development larger than Corvallis on the fringes of the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge.
"It's hard for me to imagine that the issues were not raised strongly enough to be given meaningful consideration by the planning board, but for whatever reason, meaningful consideration was not given," says former Ravalli County Commissioner Jim Rokosch. "We'll have to do a better job."
The Legacy Ranch proposal now falls to the Ravalli County Commission, which will hold a public hearing June 3.
Ravalli County Planner Kevin Waller says the planning board had to weigh nine hours of testimony and 150 written comments in issuing its recommendation, on top of a list of proposed mitigations from Jason Rice of Territorial Landworks LLC, who represented developer Donald Morton.
"They found that the mitigation proposed was sufficient to make a recommendation to the commissioners for approval," Waller says. "They had met the legal requirements from our end and submitted evidence of adequate, or at least conditionally adequate, provisions for water and sanitation."
Rokosch and others believe otherwise. Numerous mitigations for impacts to neighbors and the environment are contained in lot-buyer notifications and subdivision covenants. While those may seem appropriate now, Rokosch says, the surrounding community might not have a say in future attempts to revise or overturn those covenants.
Waller admits nearly 100 percent of the comments received were opposed to the subdivision. Howard Eldridge, one of the two planning board members to deny the proposal, cited that level of opposition in his decision to vote no. But many of those comments simply voiced general disapproval. As the issue moves to the county commission, Bitterrooters for Planning and others are working to ensure that new public comment includes more substantive complaints.
"Raising these issues, providing as much facts and figures as you can to support those issues and the lack of mitigationfrankly, this shouldn't be on the public's head," Rokosch says.
Rice successfully requested a 30-day extension of the commission's review to give planning staff more time to draft a final report. Opponents intend to use every day to strengthen their case.