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Steve Bullock

Bullock

HELENA — Montana’s subdivision law applies to all potential use, not just residential uses, Attorney General Steve Bullock ruled in an opinion Friday.

In addition, he concluded that an exemption from a subdivision review for the sale, rent or lease of multiple parts of a building applies only to a single building, not to multiple buildings.

The attorney general’s opinions have the force of law unless they are overturned by a court or the Legislature modifies the involved laws.

This opinion reversed an unofficial letter of advice issued by the attorney general’s office in 1995.

Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg had requested the opinion to resolve differing interpretations that had been issued by Missoula County and the City of Missoula, both of which advise a joint planning board.

In response, Van Valkenburg said Friday, “It appears that the attorney general agreed with our interpretation of the law.”

“Regardless, we are simply grateful to get an opinion after waiting for nearly two years to get an answer to our request for an opinion,” Van Valkenburg said.

In the opinion, Bullock said he delayed issuing the opinion because of court action and possible legislative action.

In his request, Van Valkenburg had asked Bullock whether the definition of “subdivision” and the related local review requirements are limited to divisions of land where residential dwellings are planned. He also questioned whether multiple buildings on a single parcel of land are exempt from a subdivision review.

Bullock said he based the opinion’s conclusion on the legislative intent of the Montana Subdivision and Platting Act, the state law that generally requires local review and approval of all subdivisions.

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That subdivision law doesn’t specifically exempt subdivisions for non-residential purposes or use the term “residential” or directly address the uses the divided land will be used for, Bullock said.

“A ‘subdivision’ under the act is therefore not limited to divisions of land intended to be ‘residential dwellings,’” Bullock said in the opinion.

The opinion said Montana’s Subdivision Act does exempt from review the “sale, rent, lease or other conveyance of one or more parts of a building, structure or other improvement.”

It concludes that this exemption from review applies only to one building based on the plain language and legislative history of the exemption.

He cited a related opinion issued by then-Attorney General Mike Greely in 1985 that said the construction of 48 four-plexes would be a housing development that would “inevitably result in various social and economic impacts on the community” representing “the precise type of development which the Legislature intended should be submitted for local review under this act.”

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