A group of Ramsay residents are trying to halt construction of a sprawling Love’s roadhouse while awaiting an appeal to the Butte-Silver Bow Zoning Board, but major excavation work is underway at the site 7 miles away west of Butte.
Residents of the small community have been fighting the project for years but have lost several rounds so far, and when Butte-Silver Bow recently issued building permits, contractors on bulldozers and backhoes pitched in. work.
Two years ago, residents of Ramsay were told they could appeal permit decisions to the Butte-Silver Bow Zoning Board once they were issued, and although they did within days, construction had already begun.
Residents, through attorneys, sought a stay of county permits and, when that was denied, asked the courts to intervene. State District Judge Robert Whelan in Butte scheduled a hearing Thursday on the legal request.
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The zoning board will also consider residents’ zoning claims this month, but despite these outstanding issues, work on the project is ongoing. Ramsay resident Jim Ayres believes Love deliberately jumped at the gun and the county cleared it.
“I feel like they (county officials) are going to say, ‘Well, there’s nothing we can do about it now, they’ve already started…and Love’s has already spent a lot of money. We can’t stop them now,” Ayres said.
The Montana Standard reached out to the Oklahoma City truck stop giant for comment on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon had not heard back.
Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores announced plans to locate a truck stop next to Ramsay in January 2017. It then had 410 locations across the United States and now has more than 530 in 41 states, including Missoula and Hardin in Montana.
Ramsay’s would include a large convenience store, Arby’s restaurant, casino, tire store and parking for at least 110 tractor-trailers.
Many Ramsay residents have opposed the project from the start, saying the truck stop will bring traffic, noise, pollution, passengers and crime to their quiet community of about 40 homes. But their attempts to thwart the project have so far failed.
The Butte Silver-Bow Planning Department said Love’s had met all the requirements for recently issued building permits for a convenience store, fuel shed, diesel fuel shed and tire store, as well as a building permit. of excavation.
But planning director Dylan Pipinich said his staff warned Love’s to start construction with an appeal from Ramsay residents pending before the zoning board.
“When we issued the permits, we said to Love’s, ‘You know, these guys are probably going to appeal,'” Pipinich said. “And when they appealed, we called them and what we told them was, ‘It’s at your own risk. We’ll make it all back to you (if you lose). ‘”
The lawsuit filed in the district court asks that all building permits be revoked pending a decision on the appeal to the zoning board. The board will consider the appeal later this month, but no date has been set.
Judge Whelan issued an order last week telling the county to suspend permits pending a decision from the zoning board or “show cause” on Friday why they should not suspend permits.
Kim Wilson Jr., an attorney for Helena representing Ramsay residents, said the limited issue before Judge Whelan is whether permits under local laws can and should be suspended pending the Zoning Board’s decision. .
The county says permits have been issued, so there is no longer a process for county officials to stay. Ramsay residents argue permits can and should be suspended and if Whelan agrees, Wilson said, “in theory,” construction would be halted for the time being.
From a practical standpoint, he said, residents are rightly concerned about construction continuing while an appeal is pending.
Residents say Ramsay has had zoning laws on the books for decades that don’t allow a truck stop. They say Butte-Silver Bow changed zoning maps in 2019 based on a pencil drawing, but past maps show the entire complex falls under Ramsay’s zoning.
Because of this, they say, Love’s should be required to obtain a special use permit or some sort of waiver to locate there. They attempted to present this matter to the zoning board at a meeting in July 2020, but were told their appeal was premature.
Council chairman Dave Wing said the entire discussion that night would be recorded and if and when a locate permit was issued, and the citizens of Ramsay wanted to appeal, then they could assert all their points. The county considers recently issued permits a “locator permit.”
“We will definitely hear that in the future and I will with an open mind,” Wing said at the time.
Ayres said Tuesday that residents had banked on that pledge, but now, before they got that hearing, construction has begun.
“I was assuring the people of Ramsay, ‘We have our day ahead, don’t worry,'” he said. “I said to a lady, ‘You’re not going to see anything (under construction) this summer. They can’t make it work this summer because they just can’t. Of course they can.”