By Molly Priddy, 4-16-10
Negotiations between the developers of the North Shore Ranch Subdivision and Flathead Land Trust failed last week, leaving Flathead County with the original terms of a settlement that calls for a million dollar payout and the cost of the potential subdivision’s roads.
“We just weren’t able to meet their price, it’s as simple as that,” Brad Seaman of Flathead Land Trust said. “We thought we put a very fair offer on the table but it just wasn’t enough.”
Seaman said he could not disclose specific dollar amounts involved in the negotiations at this time, but the money would have come from private, county and federal sources.
The negotiations were the result of a lawsuit settlement between the county and the subdivision’s developers, Kleinhans Farm Estates, LLC. Nearly two years ago, the county commission voted 2-1 to reject the 367-acre subdivision plan over flooding and seismic activity concerns, as well as the development’s proximity to the Flathead Waterfowl Production Area. The developers sued the county after the commissioners’ denial.
The original settlement agreement reached earlier this year had the county agree to pay $600,000 for 150 acres of public access on the property, which is located near Somers. The developers would also receive $400,000 in remuneration and the county would pay for the development’s road system and turning lanes from Montana Highway 83.
The agreement also included a provision that the latest version of the subdivision would be approved upon signature from a judge.
On March 8, commissioners Dale Lauman and Jim Dupont voted to pursue an amended version of the settlement that gave a 30-day period for various entities to purchase the land for preservation. Commissioner Joe Brenneman voted against the measure.
Brenneman said he was not surprised the purchase negotiations failed.
“I anticipated that we would wind up with no purchase agreement because he (the developer) wants a lot of money,” Brenneman said. “I think that greed played a bigger part than protection of hunting and fishing in the Flathead Valley.”
Calls to the developers’ attorney were not immediately returned.
Dupont said he was disappointed by the negotiation outcome because it was, in his opinion, the best option for the county. He said he voted to pursue settlement because it eliminated the risk of going to court and possibly ending up with a $15 million decision against the county.
“I’m kind of surprised it didn’t work out,” Dupont said.
Lauman also said he was disappointed with the negotiation results, but was hopeful that both sides could continue talks in the future. He said the door is not permanently closed and that an agreement is still possible.
“I would hope they’re still working on some type of an agreement,” Lauman said. “We will be mandated to proceed with what we agreed to and make the next payment which I was hoping we would avoid.”
By agreeing to the amended settlement, the county agreed to pay the developers $175,000 in March. The rest of the settlement’s monetary payment schedule includes $100,000 within three days of filing the consent decree with the court; $225,000 within three days of a judge’s approval of the consent decree; $250,000 on or before Feb. 1, 2011; $250,000 on or before Feb. 1, 2012.
Court records show that District Judge Ted Lympus signed the consent decree on April 12.
Seaman said Flathead Land Trust would be open for negotiation with the developers in the future, but the trust would continue to pursue other properties on the north shore and along the Flathead River.
“We’re all walking around here like someone let our air out because we were so hopeful,” Seaman said. “We’re hopeful that somewhere down the line that we can come back together with the developer and talk about this more.”
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