Initiative Would Set Bad Precedent

Zoning is an important land use tool, but needs to be used with careful consideration to property rights

By Jerry Sorensen

I am retired and support responsible planning and zoning. I worked for 16 years for Lake County as a planner, and the last 22 years as a land manager for Plum Creek. In both those positions I tried to balance a landowner’s right to develop his property with the public’s right to have a say in how their neighborhood grows and develops. But zoning needs to be pro-active so landowners know the rules of the game when making investment decisions concerning their property.

Initiative 17-01 is reactive, as the landowner has spent time and money acquiring the necessary permits to develop a water bottling operation on land that is not zoned. A vote by the entire county to force 530 acres into a zoning district is wrong and appears to be spot zoning by popular vote. My guess is if the initiative passes the landowner will have a claim against the county for a regulatory taking and the taxpayers may have to pay the legal costs to defend against a claim and possibly have to pay for damages.

I share the concerns about the potential growth and related impact of water extraction and bottling in the valley. However, this should be handled proactively by a responsible countywide study and public discussion, and followed by a process for appropriate zoning that covers all land in the county. I doubt this one operation will have much impact, as was determined by the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.

Zoning is an important land use tool, but needs to be used with careful consideration to property rights. A countywide vote to force a single landowner into a small zoning district is a bad precedent. This initiative is not a reasonable use of government zoning power and has serious implications to restrict all landowners and land use in the county. Citizens for responsible planning and zoning should vote against Initiative 17-01.

Jerry Sorensen