Bitterroot 

Final days for Legacy Ranch?

The deadline for a decision from the Ravalli County Commission on the Bitterroot's controversial Legacy Ranch subdivision has shifted repeatedly in recent months. What was supposed to be a done deal by May 30 has now stretched to the end of June, and could bleed into the first weeks of July if any new hang-ups plague final deliberations on the proposal.

The county's planning board recommended approval of the 368-acre, roughly 639-unit subdivision on April 18, after nearly nine hours of public comment that Ravalli County planner Kevin Waller summed up as "100-percent" opposed. The commission's own public comment period spanned two days and prompted feedback from roughly 80 residents. Several individuals supported the proposal alongside Alexandra Morton, who, with her husband, Donald Morton, is the landowner and developer behind Legacy Ranch.

Those voices were drowned out, however, by opponents repeating past arguments that Legacy Ranch would increase traffic hazards on the Eastside Highway, burden the Lone Rock School District and threaten the integrity of the adjacent Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge. But some speakers, including Jim Rokosch with the nonprofit Bitterrooters for Planning, put a new spin on the debate by requesting that commissioners Suzy Foss and Ron Stoltz recuse themselves from any action. Foss and Stoltz each received $320 in combined campaign contributions from the Mortons during the 2010 election, as well as smaller donations from various individuals with Missoula-based Territorial Landworks, the engineering firm contracted by the Mortons.

So far Foss and Stoltz have remained active in the commission's review of the proposal.

The commission convened for nearly six hours June 10 to review public comment, and after some question whether new information had been raised, continued its discussion the following day. The hearing is scheduled to continue June 27, potentially culminating in a June 28 vote. Jason Rice with Territorial Landworks has already agreed to a second extension, which would allow deliberations to continue into July. But Wiles says the commission is under a time crunch of its own now: The first week of July marks the beginning of budget hearings for the county.

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