Legacy Ranch Moves Forward

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HAMILTON - The preliminary plan for a 509-lot subdivision on 370 acres in the Bitterroot Valley is nearing the completion of a local government review process.

Project managers said the subdivision would provide family housing in a beautiful setting close to city services, but longtime Bitterroot residents say it'll cost them their rural lifestyle.

Ravalli County planners spent two months going over public submissions almost entirely in opposition of the proposed Legacy Ranch subdivision, but still made a recommendation to county commissioners to start building.

Now, it's up to that board and then state agencies, to decide the fate of one of the largest subdivision proposal in the Bitterroot Valley's history.

"It frankly, breaks my heart, to think this could become reality," said Jim Rokosch.

Rokosch and his wife have spent the past 30 years in the Bitterroot Valley raising a family on their 20 acres of farmland.

"Can you put a real price on this rural setting, this lifestyle that we have here?" Rokosch said.

Currently, there are no zoning restrictions or covenant restrictions prohibiting the developer - Sunnyside Orchards, LLC - from constructing Legacy Ranch.

Rokosch said community members have consulted local attorneys, and their primary concern is that the Lone Rock School District won't withstand the infrastructure of such a large-scale subdivision.

"You've really got a corporate developer, looking at an opportunity to reap substantial, substantial profits," Rokosch said.

Rokosch said members of the community - nestled between Florence and Stevensville - risk losing private property rights, and the directly adjacent Lee Metcalf Wildlife Refuge could face pollutants to its property.

However, Ravalli County Planner Kevin Waller said the developer planned around potential pitfalls, and made no variances from state and local building requirements.

"Unfortunately, we really haven't found much in terms of credible, scientific evidence that would dispute what the applicant has presented," Waller said.

Waller said the proposal met county requirements for subdivision approval, which include agricultural, local services, wildlife habitat and public health and safety standards.

He said the landowner has included a public water and sewer system, emergency routes out of the community and more than 100 acres of open space in the plan.

"They're just looking for a little bit more of a laid-back, peaceful way of life, that's also close to big city amenities, so I think that's the draw -- being close to Missoula, and yet, also, so close to nature," Waller said.

Waller said Legacy Ranch would also be built in 15 phases, over a period of 30 years.  

But, Rokosch said that won't change his opinion on the subdivision.

"It's been an incredible place to raise a family," Rokosch said.

Project planners said any developer takes a risk when proposing a subdivision, because of the ever-changing housing market, but Legacy Ranch is moving forward, against the wishes of so many Bitterroot community members.

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