Ramsay residents aren’t giving up their fight to prevent Love’s Travel Stops from locating a sprawling truck stop complex next to their quiet, tiny community on Interstate 90 about 7 miles west of Butte.
They say a Butte-Silver Bow Zoning Board decision that went against them on technical and timing grounds might have actually bolstered their case because they have more information, introduced key arguments and can detail them at length in the future.
The Ramsay Citizens Council contends that Planning Director Lori Casey has already decided that the planned truck stop would not be in an area that falls under Ramsay zoning boundaries. Ramsay residents say it would be and sought to appeal that finding.
Casey says no official decision has been made and won’t be until her office issues a location permit, and that won’t happen until Love’s obtains necessary environmental regulatory permits, including two from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, or DEQ.
Love’s site plans could change because of permit requirements, Casey says, so until they are finalized and a location permit is issued, there is no official zoning matter to appeal.
During a videoconference meeting of the Zoning Board last Thursday, and after two board members expressed confusion over the issues and process in play, the board voted 7-0 to dismiss the appeal because for now, there was nothing to appeal.
But Board Chairman Dave Wing said the entire discussion Thursday night would be put in the record and if and when a location permit is issued, and Ramsay citizens want to appeal, they can argue all of their points then.
“We will no doubt hear this again in the future and I will do so with an open mind,” he said.
Jim Ayres, a member of the Ramsay group, says he’s banking on the entire board doing that.
“I think that they really believe that we have a legitimate argument but the timing wasn’t right,” Ayres said Monday.
The Montana Standard sent emails to two Love’s public relations representatives on Tuesday seeking comment.
Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores, an Oklahoma City-based corporation, announced plans to locate a truck stop next to Ramsay in January 2017. It had 410 locations across the U.S. then and opened its first in Montana, in Hardin, east of Billings, that year.
Love’s has purchased land for the truck stop at Ramsay and obtained a DEQ stormwater permit for general construction activities, but other regulatory approvals are still pending. Love’s now has more than 520 locations across the U.S., including one near Missoula.
The one at Ramsay would include a large convenience store, an Arby’s restaurant, a casino, a tire shop and parking for at least 110 semis. A state agency has approved a license transfer that would allow the casino to serve liquor, but Ramsay citizens have appealed that in District Court in Butte and a decision is still pending.
Numerous Ramsay residents have opposed the overall project from the start, saying the truck stop will bring traffic, noise, pollution, transients and crime to their quiet community of about 40 houses.
Love’s says the project would mean 60 to 80 jobs ranging from part-time to a handful of managerial positions, with all employees starting above minimum wage and getting benefits.
Dave Palmer, Butte-Silver Bow’s chief executive, says county officials have not tried to entice Love’s to come but there’s nothing legally they can do to stop the project.
But Ramsay residents say the town has had zoning regulations on the books for decades and buildings for the Love’s truck stop fall clearly in a commercial zone. The zone allows for a “truck depot,” but they say that doesn’t equate to anything approaching what Love’s would be.
They also contend that Casey, in documents and in testimony before a state hearing officer, has said the buildings would be in an unzoned area, there were no preclusions for a casino in an unzoned area, and plans for parking were allowed.
A planning staff analysis given to Zoning Board members last week says the Love’s site plan was overlaid with a map of zoning boundaries, and the information “was utilized to make the determination that the buildings are located in an area that is unzoned.”
“To me, a determination is a decision,” Ayres told the Zoning Board, so an appeal should be allowed. Resident also say that according to maps on file with the county’s Clerk and Recorder Office and the GIS department, buildings in Love’s site plans are within Ramsay zones.
Ayres said planning staff presented a new hand-drawn map, colored in with crayons, only five days before last Thursday’s hearing and he questions how they came up with it.
Casey acknowledged that Love’s has submitted several site plans, but none is official and won’t be until the county issues a location permit. And that can’t be done until all necessary state regulatory permits have been issued, she said.
Until that is done, she said, “There is always the potential, the possibility that things can shift and move.”
Wing agreed, saying there was nothing to appeal at this point.
“We don’t know where Love’s is going to put their facility,” he said. “I don’t have any idea. We’ve (only) got a general idea.”
Wing said Ayres could argue all the points at length if and when there was a decision to appeal, including discrepancies over maps and any other matters.
The state DEQ, meanwhile, has said it expects to rule on some pending environmental permit issues very soon and that will be followed by a public comment period.
Get local news delivered to your inbox!
Subscribe to our Daily Headlines newsletter.