Opponents threaten lawsuit to stop South Campus construction

2013-05-07T05:45:00Z 2014-10-19T08:07:31Z Opponents threaten lawsuit to stop South Campus construction missoulian.com

A group opposed to building Missoula College on the University Golf Course sent a letter to the state Monday, threatening to sue if the Montana University System moves forward with construction as planned.

Quentin Rhoades, an attorney with Sullivan, Tabaracci and Rhoades, sent the letter to the Board of Regents and the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education on behalf of Advocates for Missoula’s Future.

The local group opposes locating Missoula College on the South Campus and has pushed for development at Fort Missoula west of the city. Group members threatened last year to sue if the South Campus project were approved.

“When property is donated to the state of Montana for the benefit of higher education, the Board of Regents is required to use the property for the specific purpose of the donor,” Rhoades said. “This land was given to the state for use as athletic fields for recreational use by students.”

In their letter, Advocates for Missoula’s Future says the land was acquired by the Alumni Challenge Athletic Field Corp. in 1928 to supply the university with athletic fields for student recreation.

The group argues that the state accepted the property for a price below fair market value. At the time, they believe, the exchange was made on the expressed understanding that the land would be used for student recreation.

“Because the purpose of the donation was so specific, and so carefully expressed in writing at the time the state accepted delivery of the deed, it would violate Montana law to pave over the golf course and athletic fields in favor of buildings or parking spaces as proposed for the new Missoula College development,” the letter reads.

Rhoades said the university infringed somewhat on the deed when it built student housing at the site a decade ago. In 2002, the Board of Regents approved construction of 216 units on eight acres located on the South Campus.

“They’ve used so little, I don’t view it to be substantially material to be in violation,” Rhoades said of the housing project. “But going forward, I don’t think, under that statute, a court would let them violate the original intent of the deed.”

Peggy Kuhr, vice president of integrated communications at UM, said a number of issues raised by the group in its letter have served as ongoing community discussions. Parking, traffic and other issues were to be finalized with community input once funding was officially approved by the Legislature.

Gov. Steve Bullock signed House Bill 5 on Monday, a move that awards Missoula College official funding for construction. The project is estimated at roughly $37 million and has been lauded by the Missoula Chamber of Commerce as a needed job booster for western Montana.

“It’s really early for us to have any kind of response,” Kuhr said of the group’s letter. “We just received the package of information from the commissioner’s office. They’ll respond in more detail appropriately and soon.”

The group’s letter argues that the Board of Regents must provide a detailed statement on environmental impacts, along with clear alternatives to the proposed construction plan.

The group further argues that developing the project on the South Campus would have a “huge impact on localized auto emissions.” It suggests that planners have not properly considered parking, traffic and other concerns associated with

South Campus construction.

“There is little substantive need for Missoula College to be physically located in close proximity to the UM main campus,” the group argues. “Missoula College can and should be placed on existing bare land at Fort Missoula that can be put to good use with this project.”

University officials have said the deed stipulates that the South Campus property be used for the greatest good and benefit of university students. The greatest good, they’ve contended, falls under education.

But Advocates for Missoula’s Future have argued otherwise. Rhoades called the “greatest good” a general rule. He said recreation was included as a specific rule when the state accepted the deed after the 1928 transaction.

“That’s the general rule – that the state has the right to pursue the highest and best use of that land,” Rhoades said. “But there’s a specific statute – that the regents have to use the donated property for the specific purpose of the donation (recreation).”

Reporter Martin Kidston can be reached at 523-5260, or at martin.kidston@missoulian.com.

Copyright 2015 missoulian.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(15) Comments

  1. TwiceGriz
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    TwiceGriz - May 10, 2013 4:49 pm
    Years ago, in the 70's and 80's I golfed at the UM golf course while attending the University of Montana. I rode my bike there to play. Today I do not play golf there although I frequently volunteer to teach golf to kids, Camp Mak A Dream young adults, and others there. I have lived in Missoula for over thirty years and enjoy the community's diversity, its devotion to academic rigor at the U, cutting edge environmental work, demand for business with a conscience and to recreation of all sorts. When other "snooty" ski resorts were banning snowboarding it was welcomed up at Snow Bowl. Skateboarding was embraced even in its early years. But I also like that golf is the third most popular sport in Missoula (only behind walking/hiking and biking). A sign of spring and summer in Missoula for me is skateboarders in the skate park, baseball next to them, swimming next to them, triathletes running behind three wheel baby buggies, hang gliding, biking and walking on the riverfront, floats through the middle of town, golf within biking distance, fly fishermen on horseback under the Madison Street bridge, etc. When I chose to attend U of M I was immediately impressed with the foresight of building high rise dormitories on the small foot print that is the Main UM Campus. I thought "How smart they are preserving open green space between the high rises. This is a forward looking institution with a vision for the environment and an appreciation for recreation like intramural baseball and football, frisbee and hackey sack, but with a cosmopolitan twist." I see Missoula the same way and it is why I have chosen to live here. Educated, smart, fit, open minded with open space for all types of recreation (for both rich and poor) and vistas for the soul. Pray hard, work hard, study hard, play hard whatever is your sport. Push the edge but without pushing out the "different from you" because I find joy in watching the gliders soar over the Missoula valley, even though I'm not a hang glider and I gladly let them "play through" when I used to play golf at UMGC. Please don't push out one of the oldest and best Hang Gliding sites in the country, the most accessible and affordable golf in Missoula, one of the best cross country track courses in the country, mountain vistas from the valley floor, open green space in our dense urban core, clean air. And please honor the vision of the townspeople who worked hard and donated time and money over three decades, even during the depression, to provide recreation outlets for UM students and community. It might be different if the community had not already wisely chosen the West Campus for COT expansion and consolidation back in 2004 and if it did not make ultimate sense; why would you destroy one good thing to have another good thing when you can have two good things? My "agenda" is to avoid a nightmare that I used to have about one lone, misplaced building at the golf course destroying the legacy and vision of a community and to help my alma mater avoid a HUGE mistake that cannot be easily reversed. What has made this community so wonderful to this day, is being ignored by UM officials and the 20% of Missoula College students who are so selfish that they are happy to force the other 80% of MC students (who attend no classes at the Main Campus) into one of the most congested areas of town where there are only 4500 parking spaces for 13000 students and faculty. And if it is not stopped I am at fault for not getting involved with other like minded individuals (i.e. the majority of Missoulians). FYI, at one time or another I have been a member of almost every golf course in Missoula. Today I am blessed to be a member of Missoula Country Club where I play golf whenever time allows. And I am honored to associate myself with the other business, education, environment, government and recreation leaders who are members there.
  2. justaguy
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    justaguy - May 08, 2013 5:40 pm
    TwiceGriz, I do find it interesting about how you interpret Montana Law to meet your needs, though to be honest, we probably all do that to some extent. The question that I have is what REALLY is your interest in this project? Are you truly that altruistic (
    adjective: unselfishly concerned for or devoted to the welfare of others) that you are just looking out for the integrity of the law (as interpreted by you)? What exactly is your agenda? Do you own property in the area and you are concerned about your little piece of heaven? Do you golf at the UM golf course and are unable to golf somewhere else? Please share with us your true concern.
  3. TwiceGriz
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    TwiceGriz - May 07, 2013 6:16 pm
    When people donate money to a non-profit organization and they specifically earmark that money for a particular use they expect it to be used for the purposes they specified. Under Montana law (See Montana Code Annotated 20-25-301) the Board of Regents is specifically prohibited from violating this public trust when accepting donations. This Montana statute requires the Board of Regents and the University to use donated property in the manner prescribed by the person making the donation. This is true whether the purpose is expressed in a deed or not. The Mansfield Library Archives are chock full of the history surrounding the raising of the money to purchase the golf course and athletic fields in the 20's, 30's and 40's. One fourth of Missoula citizens at the time came out to support the endeavor and you can find letters, fund raising brochures, receipt books, minutes from meetings, letters from former University Presidents, correspondence with the state of Montana and its Legislature, all indicating and giving assurances that the property being donated would be used for a golf course, intramural sports and recreation. So building at the "Athletic Fields" is prohibited by this statute, which is meant to ensure that the Board of Regents and the University Administration honor the intent of those giving their money in good faith. No wonder many are threatening to cease donations to the UM Foundation over this issue.
  4. MaxWhitney1
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    MaxWhitney1 - May 07, 2013 12:48 pm
    I find the relentless attempts to halt the construction of this NEEDED entity to be quite ridiculous now. I understand that the golf course has been a nice amenity for many years; however, education is much more important at this current point in time...and definitely for the future. The South Campus offers an idea place to expand educational services for students that sticks as close as possible to main campus. The Missoula College attendees use the main campus just as much as the Missoula College campus. Why do you think there is a ASUM bus route over to there? LET EDUCATION HAPPEN. Let the attendees of Missoula College attend class in a educational building and not a trailer park. This nonsense needs to end.
  5. Noir
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    Noir - May 07, 2013 8:55 am
    Still Here is misguided and clearly hasn't talked with many Missoula College students. A good portion do take classes on the main campus, use ASUM day care for children, and get services at the Curry Health Center. The two-year school is a cost-effective way to get started on a four-year education. The schools need to be near one another, and the South Campus is the future.
  6. Roger
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    Roger - May 07, 2013 7:30 am
    "Dorm-blazer Field"?
  7. smarterthanwalter
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    smarterthanwalter - May 07, 2013 7:09 am
    If Missoula is such an awful place to be for right wing nuts like you I have some gas
    money for you for your move to Texas where you will fit in and fell at home.
  8. Still Here
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    Still Here - May 07, 2013 6:46 am
    The University of Montana are seeing the Missoula College as their little Junior College. Folks it is a Vocational Technical School. So, you are going to put up building that are going to be used to teach Welding, Mechanics, Building trades Metal fabrication etc into a congested housing area. These activities require truck traffic, make noise and require lots of room. Folks that is stupid. You are going to put that many more students into an already congested area for parking and access? These Vocational students have very little contact with the main campus so that argument is wrong. It is Not a feeder school for the University. It Does not make sense to build it on the South campus.
  9. hellgatenights
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    hellgatenights - May 07, 2013 12:44 am
    The Regents are left leaning elitist and could care less about any stipulations on donated land. In fact, progressives have no respect for the rule of law at all.

    Now here is the big picture.

    The UofM is set back about $16mm for various reasons, including declining enrollment. The notion that we (taxpayers) should underwrite yet another school speaks to the derelict and irresponsible notions of the regents. Let's get out of the school business, there is no shortage of trade schools all over the west.

    This is what socialists do best.....spend other people's monies. They NEVER invest their own funds, because they will only accept a "Sure thing".........in other words, the insist on government assistance to cover their risk.

    The Fat Man has not delivered on any of his economic promises......and the Missoulian has never, ever, interviewed him to ask why he failed miserably. Some paper!

    We know the facts.......and we know Missoula is basically dead to the working man. This is why they want another school......lots of taxpayer paid jobs for unambitious people that do not want to work and are not competitve in the private sector. You remember them form high school.......the don't play sports or compete at anything.

    No more parasite jobs. clear out a few buildings on campus, I want to lease them and open a munitions factory. Yes.....real jobs.......for real people.
  10. justaguy
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    justaguy - May 06, 2013 8:50 pm
    Thank you. This was most helpful. As suspected, Mr. Rhoades letter is filled with half-truths and biased interpretation. The actual deed does not reference any athletic field requirement. While corresponding documents do designate athletic fields (which do exist as Dornblaser Field and the soccer field), it does not stipulate ONLY athletics fields. It is also unclear if these are legally binding documents or just old minutes from meetings a half century ago. It does talk about using the land for other needs of the university as the university sees fit. Frankly, I don't care if they build the new campus or not but it would be nice to be factual about the agruments for or against it.
  11. huntskifish
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    huntskifish - May 06, 2013 8:48 pm
    Wow, your opinion is seriously compromised by your inability to spell the work college. Have you been there?
  12. justaguy
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    justaguy - May 06, 2013 6:07 pm

    Does anyone know where to find a copy of the deed so that we can see what it actually says? I just get nervous when a lawyer hired by a special interest "interprets" the intent of a contract.

    justaguy: The deed is attached to this story online. Sherry Delvin, Missoulian editor

  13. C_Cleveland
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    C_Cleveland - May 06, 2013 4:35 pm
    I find this to be a very entertaining argument, “When property is donated to the state of Montana for the benefit of higher education, the Board of Regents is required to use the property for the specific purpose of the donor,” what benefit does a golf course give to higher education. The stipulation to have this land for recreation was back when the Grizzly football team was playing Dorm-blazer Field, obviously things change. I also find it funny that the University Housing was built on that same property to benefit students of low income, yet they where built on this same "precious" piece of land. The University has never ever said that they were going to close down this whole area for recreation ether, there will still be a UM golf course, it will just be a bit smaller. I am also really tired of the suggestion to move the collage to Fort Missoula. It can not go there period. Where the construction would be allowed, the high water table in that area prevents any construction of this size. What many in the Missoula community do not understand is that if the collage is not built on the purposed site, then it does not get built. I urge anyone out there that feels that golf is more important then a proper education for those students, to take the time and view the class room trailers that are set up in the parking lots of the current facilities. This campus was setup to serve 700 students, this year there were over 2400 students enrolled. It is not ideal for a proper education. If your schedule is too full to view the campus in person please watch the "8 cent tour" video created by one of the students at the Missoula Collage, at http://youtu.be/DfIM9zOkZs8
  14. Aberdeen
    Report Abuse
    Aberdeen - May 06, 2013 3:35 pm
    "For recreational use by the students" means that if you're not a student of the UM, you can't golf, run, ski, hang-glide on that property? Be careful of what you wish for, it may come true.
  15. montanamuralist
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    montanamuralist - May 06, 2013 1:22 pm
    The deed is kind of an interesting twist to things. Same reason the county can't ditch the fairgrounds for a spot out by the Fort which would have allowed tearing out Malfunction and making it functional.......long term lease on the fairgrounds that would cost alot to break. Will be interesting to see how this plays out. The golf course is kind of a tradition and I played there all the time when I was a student...loved it...
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