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Judge quashes land grab



The Missoula City Council lost a long-waged legal battle this week to acquire an easement that would have allowed for a pedestrian trail on a prime stretch of property along the Clark Fork River.

"I think the judge's decision is reasonable and fair," says Missoula Mayor John Engen.

For years the city's been cobbling together easements aimed at building a public trail system to extend the Kim Williams Trail east to the confluence of the Clark Fork and Blackfoot rivers. When development company Neighborhood by Design (NBD) proposed a 33-home subdivision on 47 acres east of Deer Creek Road in 2007, the city approved it, but with conditions.

The most controversial condition required NBD to give the city a 20-foot-wide easement along the Clark Fork River.

NBD owner Bob Brugh balked at the condition as well as three others, and filed a lawsuit alleging the city was taking his property without compensation.

"You can't just say, 'You've got riverfront property, we want a trail,'" says NBD attorney Alan McCormick.

Though Engen now acknowledges the city acted aggressively in its push to expand the public trail system, city attorneys at the time argued the development needed a cohesive trail system to ease traffic concerns. And municipal officials said the requirement wasn't unfairly burdensome because it didn't result in economic loss.

On March 15, Fourth Judicial District Judge Ed McLean sided with NBD, stating: "For the city of Missoula to arbitrarily decide that it wants an easement along the Clark Fork Riverbank (Condition 15) is a taking of the most valuable land in the subdivision."

Office of Planning and Grants Director Roger Millar says he's examining McLean's findings for technical flaws. If he finds none, the city will likely abstain from filing an appeal and make due with the easements it has, including a path the developer plans for the other side of his property along Deer Creek Road.

"We can get you to where the Milwaukee Trail will hook up," Millar says.


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