The Stevensville Town Council meeting on April 8 had a fairly short agenda. However, two council members took time to read prepared statements explaining their votes on the Burnt Fork Estates subdivision at the April 1 meeting. The subdivision preliminary plat was approved on a 2-1 vote. Council member Dempsey Vick voted against the proposal, and council member Jaime Devlin abstained.
“My decision to vote ‘no’ on approving Burnt Fork Estates at the April 1 meeting was not simply based on yea or nay comment that was presented at hearings, meeting, etc., but was based on the content of those comments,” said Vick. “This dissention is not a political stunt or attempt to ‘grab power’ but is purely to dissent in the way that Chief Justice Ginsburg put it in New Republic Magazine: ‘My dissenting opinions, like my briefs, are meant to persuade. And sometimes one must be forceful about saying how wrong the Court is’ and I will do my best to ‘…disagree without being disagreeable.’ I am glad that the rest of the council agreed to separate the proposed C-2 zoning to discuss at a later time. However, I do have my disagreements in statements made by the Mayor and other members of the council.
“To start: the Mayor is incorrect in stating that public comment cannot be used as a finding of fact to deny a subdivision, the MCA states otherwise. In MCA 73-6-608 (6) it is stated: A governing body may conditionally approve or deny a proposed subdivision as a result of the water and sanitation information provided pursuant to 76-3-622 or public comment received pursuant to 76-3-604 on the information provided pursuant to 76-3-622 only if the conditional approval or denial is based on existing subdivision, zoning, or other regulations that the governing body has the authority to enforce.
“76-3-622 states that the subdivider shall submit to the governing body or to the agent or agency designated by the governing body the information listed in this section for proposed subdivisions that will include new water supply or wastewater facilities.
“It is also my opinion that the mayor overstepped his bounds by asking “what can I do to get at least one of you to vote yes on this?”
“The council also approved a condition that waives the landowners’ right to protest an SID; which is a violation of 76-3-608 (7): A governing body may not require as a condition of subdivision approval that a property owner waive a right to protest the creation of a special improvement district or a rural improvement district for capital improvement projects that does not identify the specific capital improvements for which protest is being waived. A waiver of a right to protest may not be valid for a time period longer than 20 years after the date that the final subdivision plat is filed with the county clerk and recorder.
“Lastly, on April 1, there was a violation of Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised in which there was a vote held on an agenda item that had failed without a motion to reconsider by the prevailing party. While there was no prevailing party, the mayor chose to not vote on the 25th of March, thereby causing the approval to fail. In no form of government in the United States, or guided by Robert’s Rules, does an item be put back on the table as unfinished business when the item has failed.
“I am not against development, there are many other reasons that I was not a fan of this subdivision, and these are the main reasons for my ‘no’ vote. For the above stated reasons, I dissent.”
Council member Jaime Devlin read the following:
“Some very disturbing rumors are floating around about my choice. I’m still very upset over the meeting that we had.
“Please do not misunderstand my vote. I share the concerns that many other people have about the subdivision,” said Devlin. “… I abstained as a protest and a stance against this and future subdivisions. It was made clear to us that if we voted no, we would head into a lawsuit that would not have good results. By voting yes, we put the town at great risk (my opinion) because we have not properly prepared for this type of growth. In both cases there is a great risk of hardship put onto our community that I am 100% against. Our policies are grossly out of date. Our Master Plan has not been revised since 2006. Our Growth Policy has several contradictions in it. It also specifically recommended updating the subdivision regulations to prevent a situation exactly like the one we are currently facing. I will not have my name on a lawsuit (we have seen councilmembers personally named in current lawsuits against the town) nor will I have my name on this subdivision. The lack of preparation on the behalf of the town will, I am afraid, lead to some serious issues.
“Here is what I have stated on my Town Council Facebook page…
“The new subdivision known as Burnt Fork Estates has been a controversial topic for several months. This is a project that holds many emotions. When the tools in place allow for this type of development in our area, change must happen. We have a master plan that has not been updated since 2006 and a growth policy from 2016 (that contradicts itself throughout). Because the developer was able to create and propose a development that falls within the outdated and contradictory policies in place, our town is left in a no win situation. Voting no would open our town up to a lawsuit by the developers. Voting yes opens our town up to a development that we have not properly prepared for. Both carry a high chance of taxes being raised. These options are unacceptable to me. I abstained because I do not want to be responsible for the consequences of either option. As I have stated several times – the Town of Stevensville has had over a decade to prepare for this type of development. Past elected officials have failed to do so. Yes, I am angry about this. Our town deserves better. I will not vote for something that I personally feel has potential to cause damage to the place we all call home. With that said – I have two and a half years left in my position and will do what I can to make sure these policies are updated so that we as a town are not faced with this again. I would ask that you reach out to all councilmembers and speak of the change in policies you would like to see.”
Devlin also said that she had sold her house in Creekside Meadows. She said it had nothing to do with Burnt Fork Estates but was due to personal reasons. She also said that anyone who has questions about her situation can just ask her directly.
In other business, the council:
• heard a presentation by Mayor Brandon Dewey about the “My Sidewalk” software platform the Town has purchased that will aid in organizing all the town’s data and making it available to the staff and the public through an online dashboard at a cost of $23,000 per year.
• unanimously approved Task Order No. 9 authorizing HDR to proceed with the water rights needs assessment that will be part of the permit application to DNRC.
• confirmed Police Officer Jacob Guida.
• awarded the bid for the 3rd Street East Improvement Project to Three Rivers Landworks LLC for $175,919.56 with the contract to come before council for approval.
• awarded the bid for the 5th Street Improvement Project to JAG Grading and Paving LLC for $59,980 with the contract to come before council for approval.