Lolo's Dunrovin Ranch, county reach settlement

2013-03-28T06:00:00Z 2014-08-04T19:09:46Z Lolo's Dunrovin Ranch, county reach settlement

A long-running dispute on the legality of a ranch’s business operations in Lolo has reached settlement – with some contingencies.

A marathon 12 1/2-hour settlement conference last Friday between Missoula County and Sterling and SuzAnne Miller, owners of Dunrovin Ranch, was mediated by Helena attorney Kim Wilson. It laid the groundwork for an agreement that was signed by both parties Wednesday.

Dunrovin will continue in the business of offering summer camps, horseback rides and expeditions, training clinics and special events, SuzAnne Miller said Wednesday afternoon.

An even bigger emphasis will be put on its live osprey camera that has gained worldwide attention, and a second camera that will offer live streamed programs and classes.

“I think the support that the public showed was a motivating factor (in the settlement),” Miller said. “I also want to thank (Commissioner) Michele Landquist, who stepped in and tried to move things forward and successfully got everybody to the table.”

The Millers will obtain a new certificate of subdivision approval, or COSA, and install an upgraded septic system by Oct. 1. It’s something Dunrovin has been trying to do for three years, SuzAnne Miller said, but the process was blocked by the ranch’s inability to satisfy state requirements for subdivisions for lease or rent.

The Oct. 1 deadline allows the new septic to be installed in the fall, after the nesting osprey are gone. They are expected to arrive any day now, Miller said.

District Court Judge Ed McLean ordered the two sides in January to try to settle their dispute, which has centered around the need for subdivision for lease or rent. At a scheduled status hearing Wednesday afternoon, Deputy County Attorney James McCubbin and Colleen Dowdall, the Millers’ representative, briefed McLean on the signed agreement.

Dowdall said there are a couple of contingencies written into the 12-page document. One is pending a pair of bills currently making their ways through the Montana Legislature –House Bill 499 and Senate Bill 324. Each passed overwhelmingly in its originating body. The Millers, who have been actively involved in subdivision for lease or rent reform, feel that if either one becomes law their ranch will be exempted.

“If (either) is adopted, and if we cannot agree whether it applies to exempt the ranch, we will be asking you for interpretation of that,” Dowdall told McLean.

The other item, she said, was newly identified during the settlement conference. It centers around whether Dunrovin qualifies as a guest ranch. It will continue to operate as such for a year, and the Millers will keep tabs on the number of clients.

“If they do … qualify for a guest ranch in the county’s view, they would have to get permit for public accommodations, which would require some specific improvements such as a commercial kitchen,” Dowdall said.

Guest ranches and outfitters who feed most of their customers off site aren’t required to have commercial kitchens, SuzAnne Miller said. It’s twisted logic, she said, that if Dunrovin doesn’t have enough guests to qualify as a guest ranch, it would have to install such a kitchen.

“If we can’t agree on that, that’s another thing we may come to you and ask for your opinion,” Dowdall told the judge.

Friday’s settlement hearing took place in separate conference rooms of the county attorney’s office in the courthouse annex. It didn’t adjourn until roughly 10:30 p.m. Wilson, as mediator, got a thumbs-up from both sides.

“He did a fabulous job,” Dowdall said.

“Under the difficult circumstances, I’m as satisfied as I could be,” said Landquist. “I think there are still some things that need to be discussed, but I guess we’ll see what happens once the Millers go through the processes of finishing the documentation that they need to submit to go through the COSA and the subdivision for lease or rent. We won’t know about the SLR probably until the legislature’s done.”

Reporter Kim Briggeman can be reached at (406) 523-5266 or by email at

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(5) Comments

  1. pudu
    Report Abuse
    pudu - March 29, 2013 5:57 pm
    It is very clear from this settlement document that Dunrovin Ranch's problems in trying to survive in Missoula County are only postponed until fall and that they can expect another round of attack from James McCubbin in the fall. Nobody trying to operate a business in Missoula County is safe from persecution from this man if they need any kind of permit from the County to do anything. It looks like the legislature with SB 324 will fix the "subdivsion for lease or rent" mess McCubbin created originally in Ravalli Co, then In Missoula County and then for the whole state by demanding an AG's opinion. So now it appears he's after Dunrovin Ranch on some new claim that they aren't a "real" guest ranch. What isn't real is James McCubbin. He needs to be sent packing back to California from where he came.
  2. RPT
    Report Abuse
    RPT - March 29, 2013 7:55 am
    Here's the website for the cam at Dunrovin.
  3. RPT
    Report Abuse
    RPT - March 29, 2013 2:55 am
    Sukey... The video system set up at the Dunrovin is much, much more then a game camera... It’s a high quality video system that cost the ranch about $500 a month and is seen all over the world.... Watch this video and you’ll get an idea of the quality of what you’ll be seeing once the osprey arrive.
  4. Sukey
    Report Abuse
    Sukey - March 28, 2013 7:45 am
    Everyone else is required to have a commercial kitchen, unless you're classified as a Bed and Breakfast. If they want to be more than this why would an osprey nest have any bearing on this process? There's thousands of nesting osprey all over western Montana, they aren't an endangered species and game cameras are dirt cheap. Why is this any big deal?
  5. hellgatenights
    Report Abuse
    hellgatenights - March 27, 2013 10:43 pm
    Permits.....endless mediation, compromise, commercial kitchens ???? There would be none of these problems if McCubbin and the county stayed out of private land owners business. The problem is over reach......the county has either usurped authority from the state......or the state is paying the county to be it's "Shoes on the street" in Missoula county. Either way......they have assumed far too much authority and are ripe for a trip to the Montana Supreme court woodshed.
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