County Commission makes appointments to zoning, planning boards

Charles Kuether and Trent Short were appointed by Cascade County Commissioners during their Jan. 9 meeting to fill two two-year terms on the Zoning Board of Adjustments.

Kuether, a local lawyer, has served a term on the county planning board and the commission has historically preferred people with experience on the planning board to serve on the ZBOA.

Short didn’t have that experience on the county planning board, but had served previously as the GIS coordinator for the city and county before those planning departments split into separate entities in 2005. He also has a degree in construction engineering and has a background in subdivision development; and remediation and mitigation as it relates to development and public spaces, according to his application.

Commissioners opted not to reappoint Jim Edwards, who had served five terms and indicated he would have to recuse himself on the Madison Food Park issue since he’s a developed in the Foothills area, according to county planning.

During their work session last week, commissioners had indicated an uneasiness in appointing anyone who had taken public positions on the proposed Madison Food Park since they were looking for an impartial board to weigh legal requirements and zoning regulations.

County board appointments coming next week, including planning, zoning

“ZBOA is an important body,” said Commissioner Jane Weber. “It’s important that we select people who can make unbiased decisions and not have to recuse themselves. We all know what is on the table with the Madison Food Park.”

The MFP developers are currently amending their application for a special use permit and have not yet resubmitted their application. Staff at the Montana Department of Natural Resources told The Electric on Tuesday that they have not received any applications or communication related to the MFP project.

Commissioners asked county planning to staff to make a list of whether each applicant had submitted a comment to their office and contact the applicants to ask if they’d made public comments or taken a position on the project. Commissioners did not ask for, nor did they hear, whether the applicants were for or against, only whether they had commented at all.

Commissioner Jim Larson said the ZBOA didn’t meet often “so we need to have a member that will show up when called.”

Carey Ann Haight, county attorney, said that the ZBOA decision is final, subject to appeal. The appeals are limited to whether any part of the vote was illegal and an aggrieved party can appeal either to the county commission or district court.

Haight said it was appropriate to consider whether applicants had taken public positions on the MFP, as it’s an issue the body would likely have to consider. She likened it to going before a jury that has already decided on your guilt without reviewing the facts.

“The last thing anyone wants is for that process to be tainted,” Haight said.

Larson and Commissioner Joe Briggs both said they’d had a strong preference to appoint people with previous planning board experience.

Commissioners unanimously voted to appoint Kuether.

One of the applicants with planning board experience was Richard Liebert and Larson made a motion to appoint him, but that motion failed 1-2. Liebert told commissioners that he didn’t take a position, but his comments were questions.

Briggs moved to appoint Short and he was appointed 3-0.

Commissioners also made appointments to the planning board, which state law requires membership among those living in the county outside the city limits.

Commissioners reappointed Dan Johnstone and Mark Carlson for two-year terms, . They also appointed Dexter Busby, the former director of government affairs for Montana Calumet Refining, for a two-year term and appointed Liebert to serve the remainder of a term, expiring Dec. 31.