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City grants 60-day extension of preliminary plat after receiving dueling opinions

POLSON – The Polson City Commission approved another extension for the preliminary plat of the master plan for the mixed-use Ridgewater subdivision last week after hearing contrary opinions from two attorneys. 

On Monday, Aug. 21, the commission unanimously approved the extension to Oct. 20. The commission had approved a six-month extension to Aug. 22 in February. 

Mayor Heather Knutson said the development, which was originally approved in 2005, faces some lingering issues over sewer lift stations and secondary or additional access to the development. 

“I’m not sure we’ll solve all those problems in two months but it gives us the framework to move forward,” City Manager Mark Shrives said. 

According to a city committee report, a Walmart lift station located east of the subdivision has exceeded its design and functioning capacity for peak flows. The Polson Landing affordable housing project is the last development from the Ridgewater subdivision that will go onto the Walmart lift station, Shrives said. 

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality will not approve any new sewer flows through the lift station from the west side of U.S. Highway 93 without improvement, the report states. Sewer from the Ridgewater subdivision – which is not built out yet – needs to be re-routed or upgrades made to the Walmart lift station. The requirements are based on the state Subdivision and Platting Act. 

The 313-lot development’s master plan calls for two vehicular ingress/egress roads be accessible at all times beginning at groundbreaking, according to Bozeman attorney Susan B. Swimley. Her letter to the commission dated June 28 says the city hired her to provide advice about any preliminary plat extension for the Ridgewater subdivision. The additional access points provide for public safety in the event of an emergency, she said. 

She also noted that the platted lots do not clearly align with the 2005 plan, and recommended the commission deny any extension.

In a July 5 letter, she said the city is authorized by law to require the developer to pay for the impacts on the city sewer system. In addition, she said there is no legitimate public interest for the city to pay for the costs of any sewer upgrade because it would not benefit any current or future customers outside of the Ridgewater development. 

Shrives said he is unaware of any pending development proposals for Ridgewater at this time. 

In an Aug. 8 letter, Missoula attorney William K. VanCanagan of the Datsopoulous, MacDonald & Lind law firm of Missoula said developer Mike Maddy had spent some $10 million for capital improvements and made deviations and concessions from the master plan, including substituting residential community hookups for commercial ones to allow for the construction of a hotel. Maddy also paid some $2 million for infrastructure improvements outside the development at the beginning of the project. 

In addition, he said Swimley misinterpreted the governing law and failed to consider historical facts that resulted in mitigations. He said the development has created millions in tax revenue and impact fees for the city. 

VanCanagan said Maddy has done everything he has been asked to do by the city to date, and said denying an extension would be unjust and financially devastating to Maddy. 

In her response to VanCanagan’s letter, Swimley accused him of trying to intimidate the city into granting an additional extension of the preliminary plat based on threat of a lawsuit.

She reiterated her position and said the city’s focus should be what is in the best interest of future subdivision and land development within the city. 

Shrives said that the city has paid Swimley approximately $5,000 so far for her services at her “government rate” of $195 an hour. 

Odds and ends 

Commissioner Todd Coutts resigned at the end of last week’s meeting after one and a half years of service. Coutts, whose Ward I term ends Dec. 31, 2019, said he was moving back to Missoula. 

The commission appointed Jack Duffey to the board of adjustment, filling one of three open positions. Duffey does not live in the city but works there as a land surveyor. The commission is allowed by ordinance to appoint one non-resident who owns a business, property or works in the city, Shrives said. 

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