Property Wrongs

By Beacon Staff

The North Shore Ranch (east of Somers) was first proposed in 2006, at the height of the boom: 375 homes on 367 acres east of Somers. As expected, the “sprawl” crowd stiffly opposed North Shore. It was denied, rightly so, for some technical shortcomings.

In the spring of 2008, after redoing their homework, North Shore’s proponents tried again. I’d suggest you follow along with the associated meeting minutes, available on Flathead County’s Web site. Frankly, they did a righteous job on the second try. Reduced to 290 homes, with the addition of numerous findings of fact, North Shore passed the Planning Board 5-1.

The commissioners then turned it down, with Commissioner Joe Brenneman reiterating then Commisioner Gary Hall’s concerns that there was “no guarantee that Flathead County would not be sued if the land were to be flooded.”

Despite that thin reasoning, Flathead County got sued. Now the county has agreed to take a hit for $1 million, plus another couple of million for subdivision roads and associated turnouts on Highway 82, plans the subdivision gets to go in.

Wow, that worked out well….

Even better, there’s a faction demanding the county go for the gusto, risking a court judgment on the order of $15 million, which really isn’t a stretch. If the homes were all 200 grand a pop, times 290, is $58 million. Sure, the real estate market is in the toilet these days, but let’s pretend North Fork had gone forward the “right” way in 2006.

As things are now, there’s a 30-day window for a possible “conservation” buy … but this is no longer a “pretend” subdivision … it’s real, and changing reality will be real painful.

Speaking of pain, there’s the little matter of the so-called Walton settlement in Whitefish … 400,000 smackeroos because the city insisted on denying a building permit to folks who could afford better legal talent to defend their valid rights.

Then there’s the Haskill Mountain fiasco. This ground, about 2,600 acres, was Forest Service leftovers, sacrificed by Congress in a land swap so that nice guy Tim Blixseth wouldn’t rape and pillage the Gallatin – that worked out just great, too.

Turns out part of Haskill cleared the planning process but lost in court. Cleared again, sued again, and the market tanked. Left holding a big bag, the developers are now “negotiating” with the folks who sued them to a stop. The “solution,” of course, is other people’s money, an earmark to buy it back into public ownership.

Is there a pattern here? Sure….you, dear reader, are footing the bill and getting nothing in return.

North Shore’s opponents could have settled the “issue” once and for all by buying the land, if preservation was so important to them. They decided instead it was “cheaper” to raise Cain in the “planning” process, leave the “greedy developers” holding the bag, then along would come the “land trust” to “save” the land with government grant money – again, money from the wrong people.

The same deal applies to Whitefish, to the donut, the Critical Areas Ordinance, infill, et cetera. The infill regulation alone has stripped almost all present value from other properties. If the donut “agreement” isn’t terminated, there are plenty of candidates for filing a class-action against Whitefish. And, if the “city” loses, who is being set up to pay through the nose? Yep, the wrong people.

Haskill? The developers supposedly assumed the risks, financial and political, expected to reap the benefits, and came up short. Do the litigants of record share any responsibility? I think so … after all, they killed the project financially and can keep their little enclave up Browns Meadow Road. What do the rest of us get?

The bill.

But before paying, we deserve an explanation of precisely how these fine examples of “planning” already left the average citizen with millions of dollars and to-be-negotiated-unknown-millions more of dollars worth of better Flathead.

And I would especially love an itemized rundown of how political manipulation of property rights through the supposedly-benevolent, beneficial “planning” process, or our court system, has “guided” Flathead County toward a better end result that costs less.

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