Rocking S7 Road, Private vs Public Road Lawsuit

Rocking S7 Road, which runs perpendicular to West Dry Creek Road, is shown on Wednesday.

The Rockin’ S7 Homeowners Association has sued Gallatin County over the commissioners’ decision to keep Rocking S7 Road public despite a request from nearby landowners to make the road private.

Landowners made the request to protect their livestock and stop trespassing, according to court documents.

The Gallatin County commissioners denied the request at a September meeting, saying the change would violate county regulations and limit public access to the area, which is 9 miles north of Belgrade off Dry Creek Road.

The Rockin’ S7 Homeowners Association is now asking Gallatin County District Court to let Rocking S7 Road be a private road and void county subdivision regulations that require subdivision roads be public — regulations the homeowners association says go against state law, according to court documents.

About a decade ago, the homeowners association placed an unlocked gate with a chain across Rocking S7 Road at its junction with Dry Creek Road. Over the following years, county employees removed the unlocked chain and left the gate open on several occasions, according to court documents. In May 2018, the county posted a notice on the gate, demanding it be taken down. The county eventually removed the gate.

In response, the homeowners association confronted Bill Brownell, county road and bridge supervisor, asking that he put the gate back up. Brownell reinstalled the gate. Brownell later called the homeowners association, saying the county had instructed him to remove the gate once again, which he did.

The homeowners association then sued Brownell, Gallatin County and five unnamed people, requesting that a District Court judge order the gate be reinstalled and kept in place permanently. The lawsuit has not been resolved.

As that case proceeded through the courts, the homeowners association applied to the county planning department to amend its plat by converting Rocking S7 Road to a private road. As of August, the planning department hadn’t reviewed the application, according to court documents. The planning department referred questions regarding the application to the county attorney’s office, which declined to comment.

The homeowners association also submitted a separate petition to the county to abandon Rocking S7 Road. The county then initiated its regulatory process for a road abandonment petition, which culminated with a public meeting in September. At the meeting, the commissioners unanimously voted to deny the petition and maintain public access to the road.

They said making the road private would limit public access. State law says counties cannot abandon roads unless other places offer substantially the same access to public lands and water. Rocking S7 Road reaches a section of Dry Creek that can also be reached from a bridge 0.5 miles north and another bridge one mile south of the road.

Commissioners also questioned whether they could make the road private based on a petition or whether regulations require the landowners to amend their plat and go through a county review process to make the road private.

The homeowners association sued the county this week over the commissioners’ decision. The homeowners association’s lawyers, Art Wittich and Michael Rabb, did not respond to a request for comment.

Perrin Stein can be reached at 406-582-2648 or at pstein@dailychronicle.com. Follow her on Twitter @PerrinStein.

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