Monkey Business

Is The School District Monkeying Around With Zoning?

On Monday, June 18, 2018, the Great Falls Board of Adjustment/Appeals will hold a Special meeting at the Civic Center Commission chambers at 3:00 PM. The purpose of a public hearing is to consider a request from the Great Falls Public School District to exempt them from the City’s zoning rules and regulations relative to the District’s current building projects.

Does that sound like monkey business to you?

The GFPS Board of Trustees agenda Action Item of May 14, 2018, states: “In the interest of providing efficiency to the Board, (GF Board of Adjustments / Appeals), as well as the District, GFPS feels it would be most expedient to broadly cover the District’s intent to use land contrary to local zoning regulations on a bond-wide basis”. (Emphasis added.)

The District is citing Montana Statutory application found in MCA 76-2-402 as follows:

76-2-402. Local zoning regulations — application to agencies. Whenever an agency proposes to use public land contrary to local zoning regulations, a public hearing, as defined below, shall be held. (1) The local board of adjustments, as provided in this chapter, shall hold a hearing within 30 days of the date the agency gives notice to the board of its intent to develop land contrary to local zoning regulations. (2) The board shall have no power to deny the proposed use but shall act only to allow a public forum for comment on the proposed use.

History: En. Sec. 2, Ch. 397, L. 1981.

“On Monday we will learn what the City of Great Falls thinks about the School District’s interpretation of the Statute. E-City Beat will report the results of the meeting and have something to say about the District’s shady purchase of the Campfire building.”

So while it appears that: “That the Board shall have no power to deny the proposed use, but shall act only to allow a public forum for comment on the proposed use…”, a few questions remain.

Does the Statute mean that an “agency”, in this case the school district, can use property that they own, and isn’t zoned PLI, Public Lands and Institutions, to build a school? That’s what it sounds like to me.

Does the Statute exempt the agency from following requirements, setbacks, buffers, height restrictions, landscaping, storm water drainage, and so on, for the now PLI zone? I don’t think so. I believe the Statute means exactly what it says, the agency can change the zoning for the proposed use, but would still have to follow conditions set to protect the public from any effects caused by the development of the property.

Here is a very similar Illinois State Supreme Court decision which upholds two lower court decisions on the subject.

(http://www.illinoiscourts.gov/Opinions/SupremeCourt/2015/118332.pdf) – CONCLUSION ¶ 25 For the foregoing reasons, we affirm the judgment of the appellate court affirming the trial court’s order granting summary judgment in favor of the city of Crystal Lake and decreeing that the Board of Education of Community High School District No. 155 is subject to the City’s zoning and storm water ordinances.

On Monday we will learn what the City of Great Falls thinks about the School District’s interpretation of the Statute. E-City Beat will report the results of the meeting and have something to say about the District’s shady purchase of the Campfire building.

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Philip M. Faccendahttp://www.straymoose.com
Philip M. Faccenda is an AIA award-winning architect and planner. He is the Editor-in-Chief of E-City Beat.

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