Original opinion article by a local Great Falls resident. Published in the Great Falls Tribune, here.
Gregg Smith’s recent opinion (Online and in March 15 Tribune) contains untruths and misinformation regarding public participation and the Special Use Permitting process for the Madison Food Park.
His “simple premise” that landowners have freedom in deciding uses of their land is incorrect.
Like it or not, we have laws, regulations and zoning that were established to protect all landowners. Citizens have a right, by law, to challenge a change in use application.
He falsely refers to a year of “wrangling” with the county’s regulations. Growth policy and zoning hearings occurred but the developer was free to file his applications at any time.
The writer’s claim that these projects will support local agriculture is doubtful if not untrue. Milk production in Montana is regulated and it appears that the amount of class III milk produced in state will not be enough to support this factory. Additionally, the “distillery “ will actually be a bottling plant for tequila from Mexico and vodka from Canada.
Mr. Smith also, rants about multiple hearings. The process is outlined in the law so I advise him to review the MCA and Cascade County zoning regulations for explanation. The Zoning Board of Adjustments (ZBOA) is more than an advisory board. They have a legal duty to review applications, consider public comment and list conditions that mitigate legitimate concerns. It is reasonable and expected for the ZBOA to ask for clarification. Also, if the developer was upset about the ZBOA “dictating “ the hours of business, then they should not have listed those same hours of operation in their application!
Zoning Board of Adjustments has a legal duty to review applications, writer says.
Disparaging comments were made about the ZBOA. These volunteer board members take on some important and difficult duties for our county, spending hours of uncompensated time reading materials and listening to testimony. I don’t always agree with their decisions but I applaud their commitment.
Suggesting that they “willingly go along “ or impose “silly” or “draconian” conditions is disrespectful of their time and work. To set the record straight, Montanans for Responsible Land Use was formed in November of 2017. The decision to register as a nonprofit corporation with the state of Montana was made in September 2019. The corporation status does not expire on Dec. 1 and the directors do not all live on the same street east of town.
Misleading and dismissive comments about public comment imply that if 1,000 people voice opposition, then everyone else must be in favor of these developments.
Attendance at any of the hearings or a reading of written comments would show that opponents have consistently outnumbered proponents by a wide margin. It would also show that there are more than “provincial concerns” at play here.
Implications that “the system” is set against landowners with “a million dollars” to spend only further the distrust between citizens, county staff and elected officials. Zoning regulations should not support one landowner over another based on a bank account or borrowing capacity.
It is time to stop misrepresentation and false claims.
Jaybe Floyd is a resident of Cascade County.