Missoula County: Hearing laws on baseball facility nearly pointless

Public comments over plans to construct an indoor practice facility for a local baseball team must go through the Board of Adjustments before Missoula County can hold a hearing of its own, leading one commissioner to call it a pointless process.

The Missoula Mavericks plan to build an indoor practice facility at Big Sky Park and would like to do so this year. But the facility’s size exceeds what is permitted by zoning, and since it involves county land, it must first go before the Board of Adjustments for public comment, even though the board has no authority to take action on the project.

“It upsets people to show up to a public meeting before a body that doesn’t get to make the decision and they just want us to hold another public hearing,” said Commissioner Cola Rowley. “It has caused a lot of problems in the past.”

In April, representatives of the American Legion asked the county for permission to construct the $300,000 indoor facility for the Missoula Mavericks at Big Sky Park, which is owned by the county.

Commissioners took no action on last month’s request and appointed the county’s legal staff to draft documents addressing a number of issues. They include lease fees and who would own the facility in the event the American Legion no longer existed.

Questions about insurance also surfaced.

“If this is going to be leased out by the Legion to other parties, the county needs to be included as an additional insured party on any group that’s using the facility, so we have those layers of liability protection,” Erika Grinde, director of risk management with the Missoula County Attorney’s Office, told commissioners last month.

On Tuesday, Juniper Davis, manager of the county’s parks and trails, said the proposed facility also exceeds what’s permitted by zoning.

While that’s not a deal breaker, it does require a public hearing. And since the facility is proposed for county property, state law requires that hearing to be held before the Board of Adjustments.

“This process is required by statute,” said deputy county attorney John Hart. “By law, we’re following the process.”

While commissioners plan to follow the process, Rowley called it pointless since the county will have to hold a second public hearing. It’s at that second hearing where a decision will be made, she said.

But Davis said the hearing before the Board of Adjustments will have merit, so long as public comment is made.

“As staff, we’re looking forward to receiving public comment, if there is any, because it will help us inform our decision-making process, not just for this project, but for future projects as well,” she said.