Missoula County Coverage

Feb 21, 2013 3:45 PM by Bernie Riggs - KPAX News

Lolo guest ranch owner takes zoning concerns to Helena

MISSOULA - The owner of a Lolo guest ranch has testified before the Montana State Senate Local Government Committee on Senate Bill 324, which would revise subdivision laws related to property for lease or rent.

Sterling and SuZanne Miller have been locked into a regulatory battle with Missoula County over the permits needed to keep their Dunrovin Guest Ranch operating.

A Missoula County judge recently ruled in favor of the Miller's, thus allowing the ranch to stay open, but they are still fighting for long-term changes in the law.

The heart of the issue is the question of the ranch's septic system, and whether the business is in compliance with the county's subdivision rules.

Miller said Missoula County has created a "regulatory box" from which they can't escape, because they aren't allowed to upgrade their septic system, and they can't comply with current "subdivision for lease or rent zoning regulations" due to an inadequate easement on property adjacent to theirs which they don't own or control.

Miller said she and her husband have lost $60,000 in potential income, and Dunrovin Ranch has been fined $2,500 a day for noncompliance, a sum that's now totaling close to $1 million in fines.

"I stand before you in ruin because of 'subdivision for lease or rent.' I also want to say that in this state you can talk about authentic tourism offerings, but when you make it impossible for somebody like me to run a small guest ranch, you're doing everything to destroy the very thing you want to help," SuZanne Miller testified.

Miller added that she would like to see two things added to the bill - a grandfather clause and an agricultural exemption for recreational horseback riding.

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