Cameron Springs, others seek road permits, nullification of interim zoning

Editorial Note: This story differs from that which appeared in our July 1 print edition, in that it includes information about three nearly identical lawsuits, rather than just the Cameron Springs complaint.

The owners of two proposed gravel pits south of Belgrade and one west of the city have sued Gallatin County over the county’s adoption of emergency interim zoning and failure to issue road encroachment permits, among other grievances

The lawsuits were filed June 6 on behalf of Cameron Springs, LLC; Spanish Peaks Sand and Gravel; and NOG, LLC, which in May received state permits to mine gravel in the Belgrade planning jurisdiction.

Cameron Springs and Spanish Peaks propose to mine near the intersection of East Cameron Bridge and Alaska South roads. NOG is seeking to mine gravel in what is commonly known as the Nistler pit on Highline Road near Amsterdam Road. The suits had yet to be officially served on the county as of Monday, according to court records.

According to the Cameron Springs complaint, the Gallatin County Commission “failed to substantially comply with the requirements of Montana law” when it adopted interim emergency zoning in the area of the proposed gravel mine. The other two companies' complaints mirror the Cameron Springs action.

Citing a specific state law regarding interim zoning, Cameron Springs attorney Susan Swimley argued county officials have not fulfilled the letter of the statute, which requires timely studies or a hearing over a growth policy, zoning regulation or revisions to either.

The complaint asks a Gallatin County District Court judge to declare interim zoning “null and void” because the county, it charged, failed to comply with state law.

Also, the company said, the county’s failure to issue Cameron Springs a road encroachment permit amounts to a “taking without just compensation,” according to the complaint, and asks the court to order the county to issue the permit.

“By refusing to issue the Encroachment Permit Cameron Springs applied for, Gallatin County has taken the value of Cameron Spring’s Property without just compensation,” Swimley wrote.

Cameron Springs also seeks damages, attorney fees and costs, along with “interest on the value of its taking,” according to the complaint.

County commissioners in May gave Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert until June 20 to come up with a legal opinion as to whether the county can impose conditions on encroachment permits.

In a June 25 letter to commissioners, Lambert said the county’s long-standing practice of issuing conditional encroachment permits should be changed.

“The county should change its current practice of demanding off-site improvements to county roads as part of granting access to a county road from adjoining property,” Lambert wrote.

He added that the term “encroachment” implies illegal access, and the county should rename the permits “driveway permits” or “access permits.”

But more importantly, he said, the county needs to adopt an ordinance allowing it to require permit applicants to make improvements to county roads that would be affected by the access.

For example, before it requires a gravel-mining concern to pave a portion of the roads it uses, the county must have the criteria for such improvements on the books in the form of an ordinance. The ordinance might include how the county will investigate and enforce violations.

The current practice dates back to 1958, Lambert said.

Lambert on Monday declined to comment on the lawsuits, but did say representatives of Cameron Springs have requested a meeting with the commission.