South Ave. property owners wait for money from city


MISSOULA, Mont. - A lawsuit from a group of South Avenue property owners against the City of Missoula continues after nearly a decade.

Now it's a battle over what money the city will pay the property owners. But it started in 2005 when the city took land from the property owners as part of an expansion and improvement project on the stretch of South Avenue from Reserve Street to Russell.

It was unclear who owned the land, so the city opted to use it as public land for bike lanes, on-street parking and sidewalks. They notified residents of the plans.

Property owner Glen Wohl started the lawsuit against the city. It eventually included 16 other property owners.

Since 2009 the case has bounced between the Missoula County District Court and the Montana Supreme Court -- both ruled in favor of the property owners.

Earlier this month Missoula County District Court Judge Ed McLean ruled that the city should pay the property owners more than $150,000 in damages and another $180,000 in legal fees. But Wohl and the others haven't seen any of that money yet.

"It's incredible it takes nine years and almost $200,000 in court costs and attorney fees to protect your constitutional rights," Wohl said.

City of Missoula Chief Administrative Officer Bruce Bender said the city understands the ruling and is willing to pay, though there is an argument over how much of the legal fees should be covered.

Bender said the Montana Supreme Court already ruled that the costs -- about $35,000 -- for the appeal in the Supreme Court should not be covered.

"If you look at the Supreme Court ruling it's very explicit that they were not to receive attorney fees for their appeal in the Supreme Court," Bender said.

So the city is in the process of filing an appeal. Bender said it will take several months before a decision is made.

The city has two years to pay the property owners.