by Cliff Palmer
Visitor Question: We live in a rural Montana neighborhood with 20 acres. There are 10 homesites back here ranging from 5 to 20 acres on a private easement road about a mile back off the highway.
We have neighbors who have petitioned the County Planning Department for a Camps and Retreats permit (Conditional Permit) that would allow them to do Vacation Rentals and to do events with up to 15 cars. We had a hearing at the County and we and several of the surrounding neighbors spoke vociferously in opposition to the request. This county looks for ways to say "Yes" and approved their permit despite its doubling the intrusive traffic into our residential neighborhood that values peace and quiet.
We have appealed the granting of the permit and without a lawyer we are going to a hearing to allow our voice to be considered and heard as we felt the Planning Department pretty much ignored and did not address our objections.
Our objections centered around changing the culture of the neighborhood, the increased traffic and noise, devaluation of our property values, fire safety, and changing the one lane road (by widening it and creating turnouts).
We have also been concerned about this neighbor's dog barking which has gone on for years and disturbed the sleep of a number of neighbors. We have confronted the neighbors about this and are trying to get the county dog ordinance changed as the neighbors have livestock (in a forested area) and claim they are allowed these guard dogs to protect their livestock.
Has anybody out there had a similar experience, and we are open to suggestions about what we can include in our appeal, and anybody else who could share similar experiences.
Editors Comment: We welcome other responses from rural areas, but we have a few observations that you might or might not want to use in your appeal.
First and foremost, keep your appeal as objective as possible. Refrain from adding in other frustrations with this particular neighbor, such as the barking dog situation. That might just make you look like a group of neighbors who did not personally like the neighbor in question.
Secondly, it seems to us that your stronger arguments concern the road. Emphasize that you all access your homes by way of an easement, not a public road. Measure its exact width (not the width of the easement on paper, but the actual width of the roadway), and repeat that a couple of times for emphasis.
Narrowness and lack of public maintenance are relevant to how much additional traffic this easement could reasonably be expected to bear. If you and all of your neighbors are incurring expenses to maintain the easement in passable condition, or doing the work yourselves using farm equipment, mention the relevant facts also.
Most unpaved rural roads do not stand up well to major increases in traffic, especially in rainy weather. Explain any relevant muddy or snowy conditions that complicate the limited access.
The road argument also is relevant to fire safety. If you have a small fire department or a volunteer fire department, perhaps you would be able to get them on your side during this appeal process. Certainly a narrow road in what might be a deteriorating condition in the future is not where you would like to be driving a fire truck.
A secondary line of argument for your appeal is to talk about what you term the culture of your neighborhood. Use the term neighborhood character. Presumably the vacation rentals are envisioned as profit-making projects for your neighbor, and if so, hammer home the notion that you did not expect to live amidst a commercial land use (use that very accurate term).
You can mention that you fear a decrease in your property value. In truth no one knows if that would occur, since it would depend on how well operated the vacation rentals and events are. We don't think that is your strongest argument, but it is worth stating.
If your neighbor expects to host new vacation renters every few days, or if the frequency with which the vacation rentals change tenants was not stated, you can pay on fears that with the expected turnover of tenants, problems such as loud parties or even break-ins become more probable.
Please, readers, if you have relevant experiences and opinions, share them as comments.
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