County provides additional information on reasoning behind ZBOA criteria

Earlier this week, Cascade County Commissioners released their criteria for applicants for the lone remaining vacancy on the Zoning Board of Adjustments.

The Electric followed up for more information on the reasoning for their criteria, specifically related to the seven mile radius.

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The rationale for imposing that physical buffer zone, according to Carey Ann Haight, is “because it is reasonable and logical to assume that resident freeholders within the buffer area, because of their proximate location to the proposed Madison Food Park project, given the nature of the proposed project, are going to have some measure of personal ‘impacts’ from the project.”

Haight is the chief of the civil division in the Cascade County Attorney’s Office.

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“It is important for everyone involved in considering a project, as well as to the Board of County Commissioners, that a fully seated board is convened to hear the applications which come before it,” Haight told The Electric. “Accordingly, Cascade County is not inclined to knowingly appoint a seat on a board to an individual who would have to recuse themselves from hearing and voting on the proposed MFP because of a personal conflict or bias stemming from impacts the proposed MFP project creates for the newly appointed board member.”

The seven mile buffer, Haight said, is just one of the steps the county is taking to “minimize what is perceived as an innate conflict of interest such residents may have as pertains to the proposed MFP project and toward ensuring as reasonably as possible that those individuals appointed to the ZBOA at this time will not need to recuse themselves from voting on the proposed MFP project.”

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Haight said that just because an applicant lives outside the seven mile radius, it doesn’t eliminate all other inquiry by the commissioners as to whether the applicant has other conflict or bias in regard to the slaughterhouse proposal.

The seven mile buffer zone is being applied to this ZBOA vacancy, Haight said, “because Cascade County is in the unusual situation of being on notice of a large and controversial proposed project and concurrently having a vacancy on the ZBOA, the Board of Cascade County Commissioners is in a unique position to be proactive in screening applicants so to avoid a potential conflict of interest problem for the appointed board member with regard to the proposed MFP project.”

County board appointments coming next week, including planning, zoning

As for ZBOA members already appointed, and whoever is appointed for the remaining vacancy, the Haight said they would need to recuse themselves from any future projects if they have a bias or conflict.

The criteria released by the county this week only applies to the current ZBOA vacancy and Haight said “it would be speculative at this point to discuss future criteria which may or may not be necessary for any given future board vacancy.”

The Electric reached out to the Montana Association of Counties for perspective on this situation, but was referred back to Haight.