Civil Dialogue Needed, Not Litigation

By Beacon Staff

Please allow me to address a couple of issues where I don’t think the whole story is being told, including in the article Ms. Keriann Lynch wrote about American Dream Montana (in the Nov. 7 Flathead Beacon).

I have never been inclined to respond to American (nightmare) Dream’s full-page advertisements, but the one that the group ran recently, saying that the Flathead County Commission was proposing to take away 140,000 acres of private land by implementing the setbacks at 250 feet was filled with half-truths and if you weren’t watching closely you could have missed a key word, “if” the commission implemented the setbacks.

The whole truth is Montana “model” subdivision regulations adopted by the Montana Association of Counties, Montana Association of Realtors, and the Montana Law Clinic “suggest” the 250-foot setbacks. When the commission adopted our new subdivision regulations, and incidentally after more than 50 changes the commission made after receiving public input, we took that portion out for the planning board to look at, review and have public hearings on those “suggested” setbacks. We are in that process now and are hearing from many of you and we value and appreciate it.

The half-truth is to use fear tactics to frighten county taxpayers that this is the regulation we will adopt. This was a starting point, and it is getting old to have them mislead with the hope of taking back the commission with their own brand of land use in Flathead County.

The main reason for writing a response to your article was the quotes from American Dream and their attorney. I am not quite sure what they mean when they say the county is “disguising politics with planning” and that our new subdivision regulations have little if any basis in law. These statements are simply not true. During our public hearings on the growth policy and the subdivision regulations Russ Crowder would stand before us and accuse us of trying to take away property rights but never one time gave a suggestion on how to make them better. Both sides of planning do the same type of thing and wonder why litigation is the result.

American Dream’s attorney Richard DeJana said in your article, subdivision regulations needed to be changed and he was involved in writing them and now wants to litigate. What’s wrong with this picture?

It is too bad litigation instead of civil dialogue is the “weapon of choice.” Name-calling and fear tactics with litigation is commonly used only to promote a philosophy. Much better work gets done when we talk instead of litigate. Full-page fear mongering newspaper ads and articles to discredit an elected official to pay him back for making a change on a planning board is unfortunate and doesn’t say much for civil dialogue.

Flathead County is healthy and we are doing many things well on the commission. It is unfortunate that groups like American Dream and others continue to promote poor planning through litigation but we will prevail in the end as we follow the law and appoint civic-minded people to our boards. We embrace the public process and encourage people to get involved in making a positive difference in their community. I believe your readership is smarter than these extreme groups give them credit for. We live where heaven touches earth and we have a chance to do proper planning in spite of extreme groups trying to control the process to promote their own philosophy. Stay tuned.

By the way, I have been really enjoying your paper and in fact look forward to getting each copy.

Gary Hall is a Flathead County commissioner