District Court rejects County’s revision of Big Sky Cheese permit conditions
A district court judge ruled against Cascade County this month in a lawsuit regarding the Big Sky Cheese special use permit.
In 2019, the county Zoning Board of Adjustment approved the special use permit to Big Sky Cheese, with 17 conditions.
The applicant appealed nine of those conditions and in November 2019, the County Commission held a meeting on the appeal.
Commissioners modified four of the conditions and reversed the other four that had been appealed. They remanded one back to the ZBOA for further discussion.
In December 2019, Montanans for Responsible Land Use filed suit against the county regarding their action of changing the conditions imposed by the ZBOA.
The case had been assigned to Judge Elizabeth Best, who in May recused herself and asked a district court judge in Polson to take the case. In June, Judge James Manley accepted the case.
Last week, Manley ruled that “commissioners abused their discretion in re-weighing the evidence before the BOA and modifying, reversing or remanding BOA’s conditions.”
Manley affirmed the ZBOA’s determination and reversed the decision of the County Commissioners.
In the suit, the Montanans for Responsible Land Use argued that the ZBOA imposed conditions on the Big Sky Cheese permit that were based on fact and foundation that was reasonable. They argued that the commissioners’ review of the ZBOA decision wasn’t based on the grounds of illegality as required by state law.
Cascade County zoning regulations include an appeal process of ZBOA decisions to the County Commission and the county argued that a 2015 Montana law gave commissioners the discretion to remand, reverse or modify decisions of the ZBOA and that no review standard applied to the commissioners review of the ZBOA.
Manley wrote that a review by the commission must demonstrate an illegality in the ZBOA’s determination, which would be an abuse of discretion.
Manley wrote that “commissioners did not review for an abuse of discretion, but instead essentially conducted their own de novo review, making their own findings and exercising their own discretion to reach an alternative decision. The commissioners did not cite any of the conditions imposed by the BOA as being ‘clearly unreasonable’ and constituting an abuse of discretion.”