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Williams v. Board of County Commissioners of Missoula County

Supreme Court of Montana

August 28, 2013

L. REED WILLIAMS, Plaintiff and Appellee,
v.
BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF MISSOULA COUNTY, the governing body of the County of Missoula, acting by and through Michele Landquist, Bill Carey, and Jean Curtiss, Defendants and Appellees, LIBERTY COVE, INC., PAUL ROSSIGNOL, NORMA ROSSIGNOL, and PONDEROSA DEVELOPMENT, INC., Intervenors and Appellants.[1]

Landowners Liberty Cove, Inc., Paul and Norma Rossignol, and Ponderosa Development, Inc., sought to block the Missoula County Board of County Commissioners from establishing a special zoning district north of Lolo, Montana, where no zoning had previously been established. The proposed zoning district would preclude the property within the district from being used for a gravel mining and asphalt production operation. The landowners invoked a protest provision set forth in § 76-2-205(6), MCA, which allows property owners representing 50 percent of the property taxed for agricultural purposes or as forest land in the proposed district, to protest and prevent the Board from adopting the proposed zoning regulation at issue. The statute additionally provides that further consideration of the proposed zoning may not be made by the County Commissioners for a period of one year. In response, plaintiff L. Reed Williams filed a complaint in the District Court, requesting that the court declare the protest provision unconstitutional on several grounds, including that the provision represented an unconstitutional delegation of legislative authority to landowners. The District Court declared the protest provision unconstitutional. On appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed.

The Supreme Court observed that zoning promotes public health, safety, and the general welfare of the community by separating incompatible land uses, such as industrial and residential. The Court cited previous cases holding that in the context of zoning, a delegation of legislative authority to individuals must contain standards or guidelines to inform the propriety of the exercise of that power; otherwise, the delegated power may result in actions that are arbitrary and capricious, or wholly dependent upon the will and whim of others. The Court concluded that the statutory provision allowing the owners of 50 percent of the agricultural and forest land in a district to block zoning proposals constituted an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power to private persons. The Court observed that appropriate legislative bypass provisions could be adopted by the Legislature so as to alleviate the constitutional infirmity.

The two dissenting justices argued that the landowners have a constitutional right to protect their property from infringement by the County, and that by contrast, the County has no constitutional power to zone beyond that conferred by the Legislature. The dissenting justices argued that the Legislature's determination that 50% of agricultural owners could protest the enactment of county zoning regulations served as a condition precedent to the authority of the county to implement zoning, and that a grant of authority to counties to implement zoning was an issue best resolved in the Legislature where state land use policy is decided.


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