Voicing frustration to the Billings City Council Monday night, more than a dozen Heights Residents from the Lake Hills subdivision told members they felt they had been deceived by their neighborhood developers.
"I'm very disappointed," resident John Cuttler told the council.
At the heart of the issue was the preliminary approval of a plat change in the development next to Lake Hills. The change would ultimately place 55 home plots into a development that is currently laid out for 32 home plots.
The council voted to table the issue until its March 25 meeting at the request of developers, who are seeking legal counsel.
Residents in the Lake Hills subdivision have argued that the homeowners covenant signed between the Lake Hills residents and its developers makes it clear the 32-plot development must remain at 32 plots.
Cuttler compared the developers to a runaway bride trying to get married again before she had gotten her divorce. That contract is still in place, he said, and the developers need to honor it.
The council has been reluctant to weigh in on the issue. It has no authority over homeowners' agreements or subdivision covenants entered into by residents and developers; they're private agreements, Mayor Bill Cole explained.
Further complicating the issue are city regulations governing how the council approves or rejects land-use proposals from developers. Planning regulations lay out specific guidelines with which a developer must comply in order for the council to approve a change.
If council members vote to reject the proposed change, they have to show specifically which regulation the developer's proposal violates.
More than 30 residents filled the council chamber, and roughly half of them spoke to the council. Most voiced support for the development as it was originally laid out. Their issue was with the developers going against the agreement they had made with Lake Hills residents.
None of the developers were at the meeting.
Frank Ewalt, who is one of two council members who represent the Heights, suggested the residents seek their own legal cousel while they wait for the meeting on March 25.
If the developers have truly broken their covenant, there should be legal recourse for the residents, he said.
Merry Richmond, who lives in Lake Hills with her husband Kent, said she and her neighbors feel like they shouldn't have to seek legal help. She said the responsibility should be on the developers to honor their agreement.
"Most people don't have the time or the money," she said. "And why should we have to?"
Her hope is that the council will stand up to the developers and represent the subdivision's residents.
"I don't know what other options we have," she said.