Ravalli County has three-dozen voluntary zoning districts, and every one of them was created in response to some proposed action that nearby residents did not like.
Over the years, zones have formed because of a proposed school for troubled youths, the expansion of a saloon/resort, proposed subdivisions and gravel pits. In most of those cases, the proposed activity was in place or underway before the zone was created, and therefore was “grandfathered” into the zone, allowed to continue its existence.
Now the same thing has happened to a neighborhood at the intersection of St. Mary’s Road and U.S. Highway 93. A gravel-crushing operation began last fall on a piece of land west of the highway and people in the neighborhood have decided they need a voluntary zone with covenants that restrict such commercial activities.
In order for a voluntary zoning district to be created, at least 60 percent of the property owners within the designated boundaries must petition the county commissioners to form the zone. Only the county commissioners have the power to create a voluntary zoning district, and the county becomes a party to the zone and its rules. If the zone is approved, the property owners then can establish the rules or covenants that govern the property inside it.
Although the St. Mary’s zoning committee started off with a great deal of support and agreement, the consensus among landowners inside the proposed boundaries has deteriorated since the proposal was presented in a series of neighborhood meetings. Now, at least six people who signed the original petition have written to the county commissioners asking that their names be removed. Some have requested that their property be removed from the zone boundaries as well, even threatening legal action. Others say they agree with the idea of a zone but not with the restrictive covenants that have been proposed by one group of landowners.
Nothing more will be done until a mid-September deadline allowing written comment is reached. After that, the commissioners will have to make a decision on the actual formation of the zone. If a zone is established, a panel of landowners will then establish its covenants. No matter what course is taken, legal action by one or more landowners seems imminent. And the gravel pit that started all the fuss will continue to operate legally, whether the zone is established or not.