Lawsuit puts Bitter Root Humane Association shelter construction on hold

Lawsuit puts Bitter Root Humane Association shelter construction on hold

Bitter Root Humane Association shelter

Three puppies waiting for their new home at the Bitter Root Humane Association shelter in Hamilton take a good look at some folks passing by their kennel in this file photo. Construction of a new shelter is on hold while a lawsuit works its way through the court. 

Construction of a new Bitter Root Humane Association shelter in Hamilton is on hold while awaiting a resolution to a lawsuit filed by neighbors.

Work to replace the existing 35-year-old shelter and surrounding kennels was slated to begin last fall.

That work stopped after a group of neighbors in the Stonegate Meadows subdivision filed a lawsuit asking the court to revoke a conditional use permit and requiring the City of Hamilton’s Board of Adjustments to hold a new hearing on the proposal.

In their Dec. 10 amended complaint, six neighbors voiced concerns about the Humane Association’s plans to move the new shelter building 100 feet closer to the residential subdivision. Moving the facility closer to their homes would “substantially increase the noise of barking dogs that the residents hear and negatively affect the comfort and general welfare of the surrounding neighborhood,” the suit read.

The suit — filed pro se by the neighbors, meaning they're representing themselves, without an attorney — named the Zoning Board of Adjustment as the defendant and the Bitter Root Humane Association as a necessary party.

Last week, the Bitter Root Humane Association asked for a court declaration that its proposed building plans complied with all applicable zoning regulations and the criteria required for obtaining a conditional use permit.

The association said the reason it moved its new building closer to the northern edge of its property was because that would allow it to keep the existing facility operational during construction.

In its reply to the neighbors’ lawsuit, the Humane Association asked for an award of attorney fees and costs, including the costs of construction delay. The association said those costs currently stand at $43,996 and will increase $1,000 per day once the contractor is able to resume operations in the spring when the ground warms to 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Hamilton Zoning Board of Adjustments held a meeting in July regarding the Humane Association’s building plans and approved a conditional use permit needed for the project to begin.

The parcel owned by the Humane Association is zoned as a public and institutional district, as is the county road shop and fairgrounds on the shelter’s western edge.

The Humane Association property is bordered on three sides by a residential neighborhood, including a park.

The neighbors’ lawsuit said moving the building to the new location, adding new services including a multiple-use room for the public, increasing the footprint size, adding noise from rooftop air-handling units and adding capacity for more animals “significantly changes” the original use of the facility and the characteristics of the property.

The neighbors want the association to re-orient the new building so the back, with the outdoor kennels, faces the county road shop and fairgrounds.

In its response to the neighbors’ complaint, the zoning board said it “addressed the general health, safety, comfort and welfare of the neighboring residents through public notice, comment, discussion and addition of a condition of approval to mitigate noise impacts on these residents.”

The board said the conditions, including those to address the noise issue, are binding and enforceable on the Bitter Root Humane Association, and that the City of Hamilton will enforce those conditions.

The zoning board’s response said members of the public who expressed concerns did not speak against the approval of the conditional use permit, but requested conditions to mitigate impacts.

The current shelter was built in 1983, “well before any of the nearby homeowners built or purchased residences adjacent to the parcel on which the shelter is located,” said the zoning board’s response. The board said people who spoke at the meeting said they support the Bitter Root Humane Association but currently experience noise issues with the existing shelter.

The zoning board said a “lawful vote was taken and an enforceable decision was rendered.” It said the neighbors did not file a “duly verified complaint” in the proper time period and the board asked the court to dismiss the case with prejudice.

The zoning board’s response was filed Dec. 26.

Last March, Bitter Root Humane Association members said the association had spent more than a decade raising money for the new building, which would be about 3,000 square feet larger than the present 6,000-square-foot structure. The members said the association worked with a Connecticut engineer whose focus was on developing designs for animal shelters that reduce noise and odors, as well as creating space that lowers the potential for the spread of disease amongst the animals living there.

The association was formed in 1972 by a group of women concerned about the lack of a shelter in the Bitterroot Valley. The first shelter was on Adirondack Street in Hamilton. In 1984, Countess Margarite Bessenyey gave the board the land on Fairgrounds Road with a long-term lease. In 1990, the Bessenyey estate donated the land.

The current shelter was built in 1985 after the board raised about $100,000 through dances, bake sales and raffles.


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