The city of Whitefish’s battle to retain authority over the planning doughnut took a major hit Thursday when District Court Judge Katherine Curtis denied the city’s request for a preliminary injunction.
A temporary restraining order against the county has also been lifted. Though further legal proceedings can be expected, as it stands now the city will continue to preside over the doughnut until the county adopts a growth plan for the area. When a plan is developed, the county would then assume control of the doughnut.
The legal battle stems from controversy over a 2005 interlocal agreement that transferred final land-use and zoning power from the county to the city in an area of roughly two miles surrounding Whitefish. Because of concern over new Whitefish regulations and vocal opposition to the city’s authority from residents who live in the doughnut, county commissioners voted 2-1 to rescind the decision in March. That decision prompted Whitefish’s legal actions.
In her ruling, Curtis said the amount of time that it will take to form a growth plan and thus transfer authority is sufficient to ensure that Whitefish doesn’t incur irreparable damages. City Attorney John Phelps used the damage argument at an April 23 hearing, saying that voiding the city’s established regulations and growth plans in the doughnut would cause irreparable damage to the city.
“The court disagrees with the city’s argument that this decision will cause extensive disruption in the functioning of the city and the county and for property owners and developers in the two-mile extra-territorial jurisdiction,” Curtis wrote.
The language of the interlocal agreement prevents either the county or the city from unilaterally withdrawing from the agreement, which is essentially what the county did with its decision to rescind. Curtis, however, ruled that state law allows for the county to implement its own zoning and planning regulations so long as it develops a growth policy for the area.
She pointed to two sections of the Montana Code Annotated, concluding that Whitefish “is not likely to prevail” in its argument that mutual consent is necessary to rescind the agreement.
“The legislature clearly intended by both these sections that the county retain the ability to at some point in time adopt a growth policy and accompanying zoning and subdivision regulations in an extra-territorial area,” Curtis wrote.
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