Lake Five Development Lawsuit to Go to Bench Trial

Group filed lawsuit in March over major land-use permit for guest cabin development on Grizzly Spur Road in West Glacier

By Micah Drew
Lake Five in West Glacier on May 29, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

A lawsuit brought by the group calling itself Friends of Lake Five, which alleges the county erroneously granted a major land-use permit for a Lake Five property, is set to go to a bench trial in late 2021.

Back in March, Friends of Lake Five Inc. (FLFI) sued the Flathead County Commission in Flathead County District Court after the board granted a major land-use permit for a controversial guest cabin development on Grizzly Spur Road in West Glacier. The 23.1-acre development is called Whistle Stop Resort, owned by Susan Dietz of Anchorage, Alaska and operated by G&M Trust.

The lawsuit alleges that by issuing the permit the commission violated the Montana Administrative Procedure Act, the Montana Subdivision and Platting Act, the Montana Lakeshore Protection Act and the Montana Constitution.

Flathead County and FLFI both requested motions for summary judgment, but Flathead County District Judge Amy Eddy denied the requests on Dec. 28.

“Assuming that at least one party here desires a trial on the merits, that party shall have it,” Eddy wrote.

According to a scheduling order signed Dec. 18, the non-jury trial is set for the court term beginning Aug. 30, with a final date to be set in the future.

In October 2019, Dietz applied to build a total of 10 guest cabins and additional new buildings across two tracts of land that already had a single-family home, three guest cabins and a number of other buildings, including a replica train caboose and fire watchtower. The proposed additions include a barn with living quarters, a pavilion, several guest rental cabins, an entertainment structure, two RV spaces and other auxiliary structures. Several existing structures were built without proper permits.

The county approved the major land-use permit on Feb. 26, shortly after which FLFI sued.

In August, Eddy issued a preliminary injunction to halt any work at the resort. One month later, the commissioners voted unanimously to rescind the major land-use permit, based on a finding by Eddy that Dietz did not have a legal easement providing property access to non-residents along Grizzly Spur Road.

On Oct. 21, Dietz filed a new easement with the county along Grizzly Spur Road allowing increased usage for “a maximum of two residential homes and 10 guest cabins,” although it also states that “the Easement is expressly not for the purpose of access to high-traffic developments such as: an RV park, clubhouse, resort, lodge, dude ranch or event venue.”

Following the acquisition of the new easement, Dietz filed a motion to reconsider, which was denied by Eddy. In her order, Eddy stated that while Dietz “has now secured access to [the] property that (apparently) conforms with its stated use in the Permit as short-term vacation rentals … she currently has no corresponding Permit to allow it to construct (or authorize already constructed) improvements on the property.”

“Now, ten months after this action commenced, and all necessary parties are now joined, the Court looks forward to a judicious resolution of the actual pending disputes in this matter and not a re-litigation of any bygone grievances,” Eddy wrote.

While the legal proceedings were ongoing, Dietz requested two permits from Flathead County for lake and lakeshore construction. The requests are for an after-the-fact permit for a T-shaped dock and swim platform as well as a new floating boatlift, retaining wall, walkway and stairway.

The county commissioners considered the requests at their Dec. 22 meeting. The question arose during public comment whether the injunction issued by Eddy extended to lakeshore permits on the property, but the county’s contract counsel determined that the injunction only pertained to the major land-use permit.

Citing that the proposed construction might have a significant impact on the lakeshore, Commissioner Pam Holmquist suggested the permits be referred to the planning board for a public hearing.

“There’s way too much potential impact not only to the lake but to the process out there,” Commissioner Randy Brodehl said in agreement. “I just can’t support moving ahead with this without going through a public hearing process.”

The commissioners unanimously voted to refer the permits to the planning board for a full public hearing.

“There’s too many wrong things, unknown things,” Commissioner Phil Mitchell said. “I am bothered by the owner continually pushing the envelope on that property… but I can’t turn it down just because of that reason.”

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