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Ridgewater investigation needed

Bozeman attorney Susan Swimley was hired by the City of Polson to review information concerning the Ridgewater Subdivision. She wrote in her opinion, “as currently developed it appears multiple phases of Cougar Ridge/ Ridgewater do not meet the stated purposes of the Montana Subdivision and Platting Act.” She also wrote, “the approved subdivision phases do not appear to comply with design and layout of the approved Master Development Plan. She notes the City’s obligation in reviewing and approving subdivisions must remain focused on public safety for the current residents and commercial businesses as well as future residents and commercial businesses.”

It seems City government has accommodated flaws in the Ridgewater subdivision process for the past 13 years and intends to continue to do so. Developers are required to pay a fair share for the impact their projects have on a city’s water and sewer infrastructure. Have flaws in the subdivision process resulted in public revenue paying an unfair portion of the developers cost for infrastructure? During the Oct. 1 commission meeting City Manager Mark Shrives recommended adaptations to the 2005 Conditions of Approval for the subdivision be reviewed by Attorney Susan Swimley. The developer and apparently the committee, appointed by Mr. Shrives to represent the City’s interest, had proposed alterations be made to the contract as part of a review to consider giving the subdivision a ten-year extension. Dennis Duty, representing the developer’s interest, suggested the City should use a lawyer who would give a more favorable opinion to their position concerning the document. Strangely, Mr. Duty seemed to think his suggestion had equal weight in the eyes of the Commission as Mr. Shrives’ suggestion, which was intended to protect the interest of City residents. The Commission didn’t rule on either Mr. Shrives’ or Mr. Duty’s suggestion.

During the Oct. 15 commission meeting, developer Mike Maddy said, “The development has multiple phases and is exempt from the rule concerning phased development.” This is not a true statement according to Ms. Swimley’s opinion. My concern is not so much the developer’s influence over city government, as City government’s failure to require the developer to adhere to the rules. A hidden agenda and flawed decisions seem to have made the City vulnerable to claims by the developer that what was allowed in the past should apply to current and future decisions regarding Ridgewater. Susan Swimley, who specializes in land use issues, wrote the development did not meet the stated purposes of the Montana Subdivision Platting Act. City government’s response should have been an investigation, not meeting behind closed doors with a special committee to try to find ways to compromise with the developer. As a city resident, I want to know how the Montana Subdivision Act was violated and who was responsible.

I know there was a Department of Justice investigation in 2015 and 2016 related to water and sewer infrastructure issues. Those issues are relative to annexation and subdivision approval. Taxpayers have a right to know the results of the investigation. The City of Polson has failed to be transparent for too long. The City approved the second 10-year extension for Ridgewater, Oct. 15, without reasonable disclosure of irregularities. Citizens have a right to know and comment on issues that impact their health, safety and welfare. There needs to be an investigation into the Ridgewater development process to determine why the developer has failed to adhere to statutes and codes and there needs to be disclosure concerning the information gathered by the DOJ concerning city water and sewer infrastructure.

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