Whitefish Subdivision Seeks Intervention in Lawsuit Over Gated Communities

Permanent gates on Mountainside Drive put on hold while groups resolve lawsuit against city

By Tristan Scott

A group of homeowners who oppose gated communities in the Grouse Mountain Estates subdivision is seeking to join a lawsuit against the city of Whitefish, supporting the city’s decision to ban the use of permanent gates and asserting their private rights to use the roadways.

Grouse Mountain Homeowners Inc. has asked the court to allow the group to intervene in a lawsuit against the city of Whitefish filed by The Estate Homeowners Association. The Grouse Mountain Homeowners group alleges the gates infringe on the group’s existing easement rights.

The Estate Homeowners Association argues in its lawsuit that there is enough public traffic on its private roads year-round to merit the installation of permanent gates, particularly as traffic is diverted by construction on U.S. Highway 93 West.

The Whitefish City Council passed a resolution in October strengthening the city’s policy against gated communities, and the Estates put its gate project on hold while it sued the city.

Grouse Mountain is a residential subdivision near Grouse Mountain Lodge and the southern portion of the Whitefish Lake Golf Course.

Grouse Mountain Homeowners Inc. regulates the original two phases of Grouse Mountain in the lower area of the neighborhood that surrounds the golf course, an area that is primarily served by Fairway Drive. The Estates Homeowners Association manages a third phase of development to the west on Grouse Mountain itself, called Grouse Mountain Estates, which is served by Mountainside Drive, where the gates were going to be installed, and Grouse Ridge Drive.

Grouse Mountain residents use Mountainside Drive daily, both for ingress and egress, according to the motion to intervene filed in Flathead County District Court.

“The motion serves two purposes. The first is to defend the city’s decision, which we agree with as a matter of public policy,” said Terry Trieweiler, the attorney who filed the motion on behalf of the Grouse Mountain Homeowners Inc. “And the second is to support our own private contractual right to use Mountainside Drive.”

In 1996, the two homeowner associations exchanged mutual agreements providing residents of Grouse Mountain Estates with an easement over Fairway Drive and, in turn, residents of Grouse Mountain with an easement over Mountainside Drive, according to the motion.

In 2001 and 2002, the Estates Homeowners Association installed gates on Grouse Ridge Drive, and earlier this year intended to install permanent gates at the entrances of the subdivision on opposite ends of Mountainside Drive.

“Notably, gates have been generally disfavored and disallowed by the City Council in a number of other neighborhoods as antithetical to the type of community in which the majority of Whitefish residents would like to live,” according to the lawsuit. “To that end, on Oct. 6, the City passed Resolution 14-48 which prohibits any subdivision or residential neighborhood from gating its streets so as to prohibit public access.”

Grouse Mountain Homeowners Inc. wishes to intervene in the lawsuit to “oppose Grouse Mountain Estates proposed installation of gates, enforce and defend its contractual rights, and to otherwise protect its residents’ rights to unimpeded and unobstructed use of Mountainside Drive.”

A judge has not yet ruled on the motion, and has 14 days from the date of its filing with the court to do so.

“I don’t know what led to their decision to put in permanent gates. I think there are people up there who just need to be in a gated community to feel good about themselves,” Trieweiler said. “It’s not the majority of the residents, but it’s the people running the show.”

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