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Lawsuit over Whitefish subdivision dismissed, while second regarding property continues

Daily Inter Lake | November 30, 2022 1:00 AM

A lawsuit filed against the city of Whitefish and a developer over a commercial subdivision has been dismissed.

Flathead District Court Judge Dan Wilson on Nov. 9 ruled that the case be dismissed with prejudice, meaning the plaintiff cannot refile the case. The ruling notes that the plaintiff, the South Whitefish Neighborhood Association, did not serve a petition on the city within three years of filing the complaint, which is required by state law, and thus the court must dismiss the claim.

Whitefish in September 2019 approved a five-lot commercial subdivision requested by Whitefish Housing Group, LLC on U.S. 93 just north of the First Baptist Church. The subdivision was approved to include four commercial lots close to the highway and one residential lot to the west.

Roughly a month later the neighborhood association, which was formed by a group of neighbors who have been vocal in opposing development in the area, filed the lawsuit against the city, Whitefish City Council and the developer of the project.

The lawsuit claimed the development would “degrade the safety, welfare, wildlife, and aesthetic values” of the area and harm the property values and quality of life of those living in the area including destroying the “residential rural and agricultural character” of the neighborhood. It also claimed that the city violated its own subdivision regulations and the Montana Subdivision and Platting Act.

As part of its approval, council found that the site is located entirely within the urban confines of the city and not mapped as winter range for big game, thus the subdivision should not have a negative impact on wildlife or wildlife habitat.

Findings also said that the subdivision would not have a negative effect on public health and safety because of compliance with fire code and traffic generated would be evaluated when building permits were submitted for specific uses on the site.

The planning staff report at the time of approval noted that the project complies with the city’s growth policy that designates the area as both for general/highway commercial and suburban residential and it also complies with the zoning of the property.

A SEPARATE lawsuit involving the property is still making its way through the court process.

Rimrock Companies filed a lawsuit against the city after it was denied approval to construct a hotel just off U.S. 93 in the subdivision. Rimrock proposed to construct an 85-room hotel at the site, but City Council in October 2021 shot down the proposal stating concerns over traffic congestion on the highway and saying that a hotel does not fit with the community’s vision of the area.

Rimrock claims Council did not have the facts to support making statements on potential issues and that as hotels are listed in the city’s growth policy as a use in that area, thus the hotel should be allowed.

Rimrock is asking the court to reverse the denial. It says the reasons Council stated for not approving the project were not based on fact and that the city abused its discretion in denying the project.

The city denies the allegations in court documents.