Lawsuit filed over ZBOA criteria, appointments

Ryan Villines, an applicant for the county’s Zoning Board of Adjustment, has filed a lawsuit against Cascade County and the County Commission regarding the criteria for the lone remaining vacancy.

[View the complaint]

The criteria, released in February, violates his rights to individual dignity, the right to participate and access to government, among others, the complaint alleges.

Villines is seeking an injunction to stop the county commissioners from making a ZBOA appointment on Tuesday as they are scheduled to do. According to clerks in the civil division at the Cascade County courthouse, that’s highly unlikely since the county has 21 days to respond from the date they were served.

County considers applicants for lone ZBOA vacancy next week

Villines did not file summons with the complaint and instead hand delivered on Thursday a copy of the complaint to the clerk in the commissioners office. The court will need proof of delivery to start the 21 day clock, according to court staff.

As of Friday afternoon, no hearing had been scheduled.

Carey Ann Haight, chief of the civil division in the County Attorney’s office, said the county cannot comment on pending litigation.

Villines alleges that the resident freeholder requirement violates the U.S. and Montana constitution and the 7-mile exclusionary zone violates the Montana Constitution and Cascade County zoning regulations.

County provides additional information on reasoning behind ZBOA criteria

Villines cites past cases and a legal memo from the Missoula city attorney that found the freeholder requirement unconstitutional, though a provision remains in Montana Code Annotated that citizen members of a county planning board must be resident freeholders in the area over which the planning board has jurisdiction.

State law does not include the resident freeholder requirement for the ZBOA but the commissioners have mentioned during their public meetings that they’ve had a long standing policy to appoint members that live in the county, outside the city limits.

County releases criteria for ZBOA seat and is accepting applications

In the complaint, Villines alleges that one of the current ZBOA members, Leonard Reed lives in the city limits. The address listed in Villines’ complaint is within the city limits, but it’s a realty office associated with Reed. The current ZBOA roster lists Reed’s address outside the city limits.

Villines did not initially apply for the ZBOA vacancies when appointments were made in January. One of those appointed declined the seat since it was later discovered that he had made public comments regarding the Madison Food Park proposal.

Short declines ZBOA appointment, creating a new vacancy

After that vacancy was created, the commission directed Haight to develop criteria for the vacancy.

County board appointments coming next week, including planning, zoning

That criteria was released in February and Villines alleges in his complaint that the new rules deny him the ability to participate.

The 7-miles exclusionary zone was not discussed in public meetings and was part of criteria developed by the county attorney’s office. County Commissioners have not voted to adopt the criteria and are scheduled to discuss the applicants during their March 13 meeting and make an appointment to the ZBOA.