From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 3, Number 51 - March 18, 2004
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Fairbanks threatened with fine

by Cat Urbigkit

As if county planning and zoning issues weren't controversial enough simply on their own merits, add conflicting personalities. That's the mix that was evident Tuesday afternoon at the Sublette County Commission meeting.

Eric Fairbanks, owner of the Sand Draw Industrial Subdivision at the junction of highways 351 and 191, approached the commission with two issues that needed tackled.

Fairbanks said that he has turned in a total of five applications to rezone some of the land in his industrial subdivision, with each application deemed inadequate by the county planning office. Fairbanks said he was told that, because he did not submit a master plan or a "footprint," the planning office refused to accept the most recent application. Fairbanks explained that he wanted to rezone the land in order to sell it, so he has no idea how it will eventually be developed, so a master plan isn't feasible.

Fairbanks pointed out that when he came to the commission to rezone the property from agricultural to a variety of zoning about four years ago, no master plan had been required and the rezone was approved. But now that he's seeking rezoning on five of those lots, the planning office is requiring a master plan.

Commission Chairman Gordon Johnston said the rules were clear that a master plan is required, telling Fairbanks, "Play by the rules or don't play."

Sublette County Planner Jocelyn Moore said the planning office has no quarrel with what Fairbanks wants to do, but insists that the master plan be filed.

Commissioner Betty Fear pointed out that the land has already been subdivided, so questioned how a master plan should apply to speculative development.

Commissioner Bill Cramer questioned how Fairbanks's latest application differs from his original rezoning, in which a master plan was not required.

Moore said that the difference is that the master plan wasn't required then, even though it was in the zoning regulations.

"The requirement was there all along, but was not enforced," Moore said.

Fear said, "It's a catch-22, I think."

Johnston suggested that the county regulations aren't dealing adequately with the issue of speculative development.

"It can be changed and it very possibly needs to be changed," Johnston said. "Rather than ignore the regulations, let's change them."

Cramer made a motion directing the planning office to accept Fairbanks' application and let the Sublette County Planning and Zoning Commission hear the application on its merits; and to have the P&Z commission reconsider existing regulations to address this problem. The motion was successful.

The second issue Fairbanks asked the commission to consider was a recent letter he received from the planning office. The letter noted that Fairbanks had commenced site improvements and grading on two lots without a zoning permit. The letter put Fairbanks on notice that he was considered to be in violation of county zoning regulations, punishable by a fine of up to $100 per day for each of the two offenses.

Fairbanks explained that what he had done was land leveling - moving dirt. He said no contractor in the county is required to get a county permit to move dirt and questioned whether permits are now required.

Cramer said it appears that the issue boils down to the facts and circumstances of the case. Cramer said should any fines be imposed, it would be the commission that would make that decision, not the planning office.

Fairbanks said that the dirt moving he was cited for occurred on two lots, one of which he doesn't even own.

Cramer said he has no problem with the letter being sent to Fairbanks, but said if development of the property wasn't taking place, just land leveling, there wasn't a problem.

Johnston, reading the letter and the regulation, said, "It appears you need a permit."

All the commissioners were concerned that the county would require a permit for land leveling.

Parts of the session were somewhat contentious, with Johnston calling Boulder's Bubba Larsen "Phillip," apparently in response to Larsen's referring to Johnston as "Richard" in the past. At one point, while Larsen was speaking about the land-leveling issue, Johnston told Larsen to stop: "Sit down. We're through talking to you."

Fear said that the commission really needed to get a handle on the permit issue, because it would be repeated if not addressed.

Cramer suggested that from now on, Moore should speak with the commission before sending out such a letter as was sent to Fairbanks.

"This is a learning process as much as anything," Cramer said, assuring Fairbanks that the county would not fine him $100 per day for his actions.

The commission agreed that this is another zoning matter than needs to be fixed.

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