Flathead County sued over Eagle’s Crest

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Another subdivision proposal is headed to court.

The Flathead Lake Protection Association, along with two individuals, filed a complaint Wednesday afternoon in District Court to challenge the actions taken by the Flathead County Commissioners on Nov. 6. The commissioners voted 2-1 to approve Eagle's Crest Subdivision Phases 5-9.

The lawsuit claims that the commissioners violated Flathead County Subdivision Regulations, regulations in the county's 1987 Master Plan, sections of the Montana Constitution and the right for the public to adequately participate in the decision.

In the complaint, the plaintiffs request an order that would declare void the commissioner's Nov. 6 decision, for judgment establishing the stated violations and for reasonable attorney fees and litigation expenses.

Phases 5-9 encompass 1,353 acres (about 2.1 square miles), which would include 821 residential and commercial units on 739 lots on 777 acres. According to the draft governing covenants, the site may also have club houses, recreation centers, aircraft landing strips, golf facilities, firing ranges, recreational vehicle parks, horse pastures, aircraft hangers and guest cabins within the 576 acres of common area.

The build-out would mostly be single-family homes, condominium units and mixed use commercial.

"It's unfortunate that the court system is being bogged down by a couple of individuals who didn't get their way," said Trevor Schaefer, Lakeside landowner and Eagle's Crest developer. "There's a lot in the complaint that is just flat wrong."

Bruce Young, past president of the Flathead Lake Protection Association and Lakeside Realtor, is a plaintiff along with John Guralchuck. Both are Lakeside residents.

"I've been watching this process, this charade, and watching the Planning Board members and commissioners massage findings of fact to give them shelter from their poor decision-making," Young said. "It's really government performing at its lowest level. I find that to be disingenuous to an honest public planning process."

Young said that the Flathead Lake Protection Agency, the Flathead Lakers, scientists from the Flathead Lake Biological Station, Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks and other groups all opposed the Eagle's Crest subdivision.

"We're talking about organizations with thousands of members," Young said. "Nobody is being listened to. If we had real leaders in this valley, they'd be doing everything they could to protect the basin's water quality. This is about a treasure called Flathead Lake. That's something that belongs to all of us. The county may be slow to realize it, but people throughout the state and the world recognize it immediately."

The Flathead Lake Protection Association hired engineers and land planners to refute the environmental reports submitted by the applicant, Montana Eagle Acquisitions. Young said that the reports by Eagle's Crest contained "bogus information."

"When you build a city the size of Polson above Flathead Lake, and you don't mention the lake as a drainage point in the environmental impact statement, something is awry," Young said. "It doesn't bely any common sense. We're asking them to respect the quality of the lake, the winter game range and the community of Lakeside."

Schaefer said that his company brought in the very best people in the field and brought them into the development.

"We did everything that the county planners asked us to do," he said. "I know our planning and environmental studies are spot on. There is no way Phases 5-9 affect Flathead Lake. If it did, we would have addressed that.

"We reached out to Bruce repeatedly. If the Flathead Lake Protection Association's real agenda is to improve water quality, we would have had discussions about water quality, but it was always about density and how to use our land. Water quality is not their objective. Their objective is to stop this development. I don't get it."

County Commissioner Dale Lauman, who voted to approve the project along with Commissioner Gary Hall, said that he read through all the reports and considered them to be good.

"I think it's a good development," Lauman said. "It's a well thought-out development, and I think it will be good for the community."

Young said that it was not his intention to stop or block growth and development, but he said that Phases 5-9 should comply with the 1987 Master Plan that called for 20-acre lots.

"This land was deemed unsuitable for development by the 1987 Master Plan," Young said. "The people we paid 20 years ago, the experts, decided that. What changed in 20 years that would now allow for 1,000 homes and 1,000 guest homes?

"It's not our desire to sue our own county. It's costly and time-consuming, but the commissioners continue to make poor judgments that we've visited in the past. We've sued four times in 30 years, and we've won four times."

Schaefer, a former military officer, said that the lawsuit will not only delay Phases 5-9, but also the projects connected with the development including a low-cost housing project and sports facility in Lakeside.

"Our elected officials voted in favor of this project, and I believe in the public process and public service," Schaefer said. "At the end, we came up with a great, great project."

Reporter Michael Richeson may be reached at 758-4459 or by e-mail at mricheson@dailyinterlake.com

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