The plaintiffs in the Carbon County lawsuit over citizen initiated zoning filed their brief in Montana Supreme Court last week. This is the latest step in a process that should be decided in 2016.
You can read the brief by clicking the graphic on the right.
In 2014, a group of Belfry landowners petitioned the Carbon County Commissioners to grant the protections of citizen-initiated zoning after Energy Corporation of America announced plans in October 2013 to hydraulically fracture 50 wells along the Beartooth Front, an area that includes Carbon and Stillwater counties in Montana and forms the northeastern flank of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. Mork boasted that ECA hoped to bring “a little bit of the Bakken” to the Beartooths.
The group sought to establish the Silvertip Zoning District, which would include nearly 3,000 acres of agricultural land north of Belfry. Montana law empowers landowners to initiate the development of zoning regulations for the protection of their land and community by petitioning their county commissioners to establish planning and zoning districts.
After initially approving the district, the Commissioners last January voted to deny the zone. The Commission’s rejection was based on the opposition of certain neighboring landowners under a provision of the law that the plaintiffs argue is unconstitutional.
In February of this year, the petitioners filed a legal challenge to the Carbon County Commission’s decision to reject their petition. In a narrow ruling, Judge Blair Jones on July 8 dismissed the lawsuit without ruling on the merits of the landowners’ legal challenge.
In August, the Silvertip landowners appealed Judge Jones’ ruling to the Montana Supreme Court.
Silvertip landowners argument
In the brief, the petitioners argue that:
- The District Court ruled improperly in saying that the Carbon County Commissioners had no ability to waive their own procedural requirements for the submission of citizen-initiated zoning, even though the Commissioners admitted that those requirements were burdensome, and that waiving the procedure would not be unfair to anyone.
- The protest provision in Montana code MCA § 76-2-101(5) violates the Montana Constitution by allowing private individuals to veto county commissioners’ approval of citizen zlning proposals without any justification or opportunity for the commissioners to review.
- The Carbon County Commissioners’ reliance on the protest provision makes their decision unlawful.
What happens next
The Carbon County Commissioners have 30 days to file their response to the brief. We will keep you updated.
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Frequently Asked Questions about the Silvertip citizen-initiated zone
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Commissioners action in denying Silvertip Zone clearly illegal
Why Silvertip landowners filed suit against the Carbon County Commissioners
Breaking: Decision in Silvertip Zone case (includes timeline of events)
Judge Blair Jones’ ruling in District Court