Pro Bono legal representation for Tetonia voters
Tetonia citizens protect voting rights and wetlands
After four years of pro-bono legal representation, and review by the Idaho Supreme Court, the controversial “Egbert Annexation” has come to a close with the 267 acres of farmland and fragile wetlands owned by the Richard A. Egbert Limited Partnership (“Egbert Partnership”) being officially declared de-annexed from the City of Tetonia. Also at stake in this case was the primacy of the voice of Idaho voters at the ballot box.
A bit of history: On December 16, 2009, by a 3:1 vote, the Tetonia City Council enacted the controversial Egbert Annexation which purported to annex roughly 267 acres of farmland and wetlands owned by the Egbert Partnership into the Tetonia city limits, effectively doubling the size of the town (see attached pdf map). The City Council’s split-vote decision directly contradicted the unanimous decision by Tetonia’s Planning & Zoning Commission to recommend denial of the Egbert Annexation, because of concerns for public infrastructure and the Spring Creek wetlands.
Soon thereafter, the citizens of Tetonia successfully petitioned to place this annexation on the ballot as a referendum, and on May 25th, 2010, the voters of Tetonia voted 56 to 31 to repeal the Egbert Annexation. However, 78 days after the ballots were canvassed, the Egbert Partnership filed suit against the City of Tetonia on August 17, 2010, asking for the District Court to overturn the citizen election by declaring it “null and void and without effect.” None of the referendum petitioners were named in this suit.
On September 28, 2010, Anna Trentadue, staff Attorney and Program Director for Valley Advocates for Responsible Development (VARD) and David Axelrod (Board President of VARD) filed a Motion to Intervene in this suit on behalf of Tetonia’s voters. Trentadue and Axelrod ultimately represented four Tetonia residents who voted in the referendum election and two landowners who were completely surrounded by the Egbert Annexation. Said Trentadue:
“David and I offered our legal services free of charge to the people of Tetonia because this case had the very real potential to establish precedent that would disenfranchise all Idaho voters.”
Said Tetonia landowner Robert Margulis, in-holder to the Egbert Annexation and Intervenor in the Egbert suit:
“When we acquired our property, we sited the cabin far away from Spring Creek and went to great lengths to vacate a high-density subdivision that had been platted on our property in order to protect our small piece of a critical wildlife corridor. The idea that someone could find ways to ignore the advice of the P&Z Commission and circumvent the outcome of a democratic election to create yet one more development in our already over-platted valley was inconceivable. Thanks to VARD’s work, Spring Creek will remain protected by low density zoning. I shudder to think where we’d be today had it not been for VARD and their excellent pro-bono legal support over the past 3+ years going all the way to the Idaho Supreme Court and back down again as they successfully protected Spring Creek and voter rights of our community.”
And here are some words from other Tetonia voters and landowners represented in the suit:
“The people of Tetonia would have been steamrolled without you.”
“Thank you for all your hard work. It’s been a long haul, but worth it!”
“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”
The Egbert Partnership property was officially declared de-annexed from Tetonia via a January 16, 2014 Settlement Agreement between the City of Tetonia, the Egbert Partnership, and the Intervenors to this suit. Consequently, the District Court for the 7th Judicial District entered a Judgement of Dismissal on February 26, 2014.