On Tuesday night the Miles City Council denied the controversial rezoning request by Diamond J Construction for some land along Highway 59 South.
The land is zoned agricultural, and the company requested it be general commercial so it can complete the building it already had begun. The facility was to be used for a shop and office.
Diamond J is owned by John Peila and Emmett Willson.
The vote was 5-3, with Jerry Partridge, Sheena Martin, Susanne Galbraith, Mark Ahner and John Hollowell voting to deny the request and Ken Gardner, Roxanna Brush and Dwayne Andrews voting for the rezoning.
Some of the council members who opposed it said they believe that growth will continue in that direction and they support that, but since the land around Diamond J’s land is zoned agricultural, they view this request as spot zoning, which is illegal in Montana.
They said the rezoning may be able to be accomplished in other ways.
If the land between Diamond J’s and the city were rezoned to general commercial, there would be fewer problems for Diamond J, but the neighbors would likely still oppose it.
The issue came up at the May 27 council meeting, but the request died because no one made a motion to pass it. Because no motion was made, no discussion took place. On June 24 there was a public hearing so the owners would have a chance to be heard. Many people spoke in favor of it and many spoke against it. The landowners in that area who spoke were all against it. Because of the strong opposition, the request required a 3/4 majority, or six votes, for approval.
Brush said she no longer felt that it was spot zoning and decided to vote in favor of the request.
Martin said that while the city can’t legally spot zone, maybe officials should think about how feasible it would be to annex land along the highway for future development.
“I cannot vote for spot zoning, but that is not to say there’s no other solution,” she added.
Hollowell said the city recently took action and created policies “to prevent ‘run and gun’ construction that we have had in the past. It’s been a common theme throughout Miles City of we’ll (skip) the process and work things through, and recently we’ve had many problems due to this.”
Andrews said, “I’m going to support (the request). I know he made mistakes. Everyone does. ... If he didn’t have that foundation in, I’d say ‘tough beans,’ but he’s put a lot of money into that thing already, and I think we shouldn’t be in a position to require a private landowner and businessman to lose a bunch of money because we have an issue with zoning.”
Mayor Butch Grenz asked Andrews if the next guy should just put a lot of money into the ground and ask later.
Andrews replied he didn’t think that would happen, with as much attention as this situation has gotten.
Attorney Gary Ryder is representing the interests of one of the neighboring landowners. In a telephone interview Wednesday morning, Ryder said he felt some of the council comments were “real good points,” and the growth policy that is in place is “a well-thought-out” document. “It is a pretty good road map ... it simply needs to be followed.”
“In order for government to work, the rules have to apply to everyone,” he said. “If the zoning request was granted, it would have been done at the expense of other property ownersm and those property owners have rights too. Some kind of preservation of the quality of life needs to be factored in there.”
Diamond J’s attorney, Mark Noennig, did not return a phone call before the press deadline.