HAMILTON, Mont. -

In a legal case that dragged on for 6 years, Ravalli County has reached a settlement with a development group that sued in a road improvement dispute.

The county will pay Big Sky Development group $675,000.

In 2008, county commissioners said 8 Mile Road near Florence needed widening and upgrades to accommodate excess traffic from planned subdivisions.

The variance request came from Big Sky and another developer to make road improvements on a pro rata basis.

A judge ruled the commission decision to deny the variance was "arbitrary and capricious."

Attorneys met with commissioners to hammer out the deal.

Big Sky Development will receive the first payment of the $675,000 settlement in a month.

"In June of this year," said commission chair Greg Chilcott, "for $250,000, and then $43,000 a year annual payments for four years."

Big Sky's attorney said after 6 years, the money will be used to develop Sandhill Ridge Estates. It's 35 lots.

"Due to the denial of the variance and the delays associated with this liitgation," said Terance Perry, "Big Sky Development has been unable to financially develop this property, but it intends to do so now."

Chilcott said the amount is 8 to 9 percent of the county's locally generated revenue.

He said there's enough in reserves to pay for it, but payments will hurt.

"We'll make them," said Chilcott, "but it's going to impact the level of services our citizens receive."

Former commissioner Jim Rokosch was in office when the variance was denied.

Rokosch said the settlement is "an atrocious amount, and an affront to the taxpayers of Ravalli County."

Sandhill Ridge subdivision was approved in 2011.

At a gas station in Florence we talked to a couple people. Karrie Farran said there's more important things we can pay instead of a developer.

"Let's build the subdivision," said Jed Larson, "and not pay them the $600,000 and he'll make his money with his subdivision."