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Whitefish nonprofit denied full participation in housing lawsuit

by HEIDI DESCH
Daily Inter Lake | February 5, 2024 11:00 PM

The Montana Supreme Court has denied a Whitefish nonprofit’s request to intervene as a defendant in a lawsuit filed by a coalition of homeowners against the state.

While the Supreme Court on Jan. 23 rejected Shelter WF’s request, it did rule that the group could file an amicus brief in the case meaning it will be permitted to assist the court by offering information or insight that has bearing on the issues in the case. 

The case, which originated in Gallatin County District Court, centers on a challenge to a quartet of bills passed by the state Legislature aimed at addressing the affordable housing crisis in the state. The case remains in Gallatin County while a portion of the lawsuit has been appealed to the higher court. 

The homeowners, known as Montanans Against Irresponsible Densification or MAID, say that while affordable housing is a problem in the state, the bills not only do nothing to address the housing problem directly, they also violate several constitutional rights.

Attorneys for the state argue that the plaintiffs offer only “generalized fears and speculation” about the effects of the bills, and counter claims of violating constitutional rights. 

Shelter WF President Nathan Dugan sits on the governor’s Housing Task Force, which played a role in getting the challenged laws through the 2023 legislative session. In court documents, the nonprofit argued that it was uniquely situated to defend the housing laws and thus requested to be added as a defendant in the case. 

MAID in court documents filed with the Supreme Court opposed Shelter WF entering the lawsuit saying that the state is adequately represented by the Montana Attorney General’s Office. It did support Shelter WF’s amicus participation. 

The lawsuit centers on four bills that pertain to zoning and land use regulations. 

Gallatin County District Court Judge Mike Salvagni ordered a preliminary injunction against Senate Bill 323 and Senate Bill 528, which had been set to take effect on Jan. 1, effectively stopping them from being implemented. The state appealed that decision to the Supreme Court. 

Implementation of Senate bills 382 and 245 could last for several years as they pertain to modifying zoning laws, thus allowing those to go into effect while the case is argued in court.

Features Editor Heidi Desch may be reached at 758-4421 or hdesch@dailyinterlake.com.