From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 3, Number 8 - May 22, 2003
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Large tracts to small lots draw controversy

by Cat Urbigkit

In county planning and zoning business Tuesday, the Sublette County Commission heard a variety of different applications, but several applications generated the same controversy: first filing for large-tract developments, then subdividing into smaller lots.

But before addressing the development issue, the commission addressed a few other applications, including approving a request from Richard Rohrer for a zone change on a lot currently zoned rural residential to rural residential mobile home on a property located on the east side of Front Street.

The commission also granted a variance request from Charles Hunt to place a well and septic on less than one acre in the Boulder area, and for a rear setback of 20 feet instead of the mandated 40 feet. County Planner Joanne Garnett reported that County Sanitarian Keith Raney recommended that the well and septic could work on the site, although County Public Health Officer Dr. J. Thomas Johnston raised concerns about having a well and septic on such a small lot.

Next the commission heard the request for a zone change by JP Ranch to rezone 40 acres to Rural Residential-10 acre minimum on 14 acres, and RR-20 on 25.5 acres located south of the Fayette/Pole Creek Road. The purpose of the zone change would be to subdivide the land into two lots.

Garnett said that one concern raised involved having a developer turn land from agricultural into a large-tract development, then proceeding to request to subdivide the lands into smaller lots. She said the County P&Z Commission recommended that the JP Ranch application for a zone change be denied, with a 3-2 vote.

"I agree with the P&Z board," Commission Chair Gordon Johnston said, adding that he was concerned about some of the comments he read in the P&Z minutes, especially one questioning what right the board had to curtail development.

With little further discussion, Commissioner Bill Cramer moved to deny the request for a zone change, which Commissioner Betty Fear seconded. The vote was unanimous in denying the request.

Next the board heard Wilderness Estate Large Tract Development Company's (First City Capital Corporation) filing of a plat map for a large tract development consisting of 201 acres of agricultural land into five lots measuring 40-plus acres in size, located just north of Fayette/Pole Creek Road. The P&Z Commission recommended 4-1 that the application be approved.

Johnston suggested that the commission wait until the results of the water percolation tests are in before approving the development plan because there is a concern with the water table in the area.

Cramer questioned the county's authority to deny the matter or to wait, and Fear answered, "We don't have authority - it's a large tract development."

The commission approved the development map, noting that perhaps a change in state statute is needed.

The commission heard the zone change request by Jack Richardson for 43 acres of agricultural land to rural residential-10 acre minimum. The property is located east of Highway 191 behind Aspen Storage and Giebel Subdivision. Richardson proposed to subdivide the property into four lots.

Concerns about development occurring on the heels of large tract developments, seasonal high groundwater levels and intensive home development in the area were raised. Garnett noted that the P&Z Commission recommended denial of the application on a 3-2 vote.

Richardson representative Mark Eatinger of Rio Verde Engineering noted that the wetlands "will be marked as basically a no-disturbance area," essentially serving as a greenbelt zone.

Richardson spoke as well, responding to concerns point by point, and noting that there is nothing in the county comprehensive plan that prohibits going from large tract developments to smaller lots, so long as procedures are followed.

Several residents of the area voiced their concerns about the development.

Cecilia Richardson said she has developed a web page for the sale of large tracts and most of the interest generated is from people seeking two- to five- acre lots, "so nobody is interested in large tracts."

Once the public had finished, Fear cautioned that she wouldn't like to see any precedent set that would indicate that just because a developer had filed for a large tract development, it shouldn't preclude them from subdividing the land further.

Fear noted that the proposed subdivision is located fairly close to town and is accessible.

Cramer made the motion to accept Richardson's proposal to rezone, which Fear seconded. The application was approved, with Johnston voting in opposition.

Next up was Richardson's application to rezone 70 acres of agriculturally zoned land to rural residential zoning in the form of 29 lots. This application is for lands adjoining those at issue in the previous application. The P&Z Commission had voted 3-2 to deny the application.

"I cannot support this application ... " Cramer said. "The density is too great for this area."

"I too am concerned about the density," Fear said.

Cramer made the motion to deny the application, which Fear seconded. The commission was unanimous in denying the application.

Bubba Larsen's request to rezone four acres to allow about eight acres of Larsen's land to be subdivided into commercial and residential lots in a planned unit development along highway north of Boulder came to the county commission with the P&Z Commission deadlocked on the issue, so no recommendation was provided. Cramer made the motion, which Fear seconded, to approve Larsen's application as presented. The vote was unanimous.

The commission discussed the possibility of reverting the zoning on Scott Leeper's Bondurant property back to agricultural zoning from RR-10. County regulations require zoning be reverted if, within two years of a zoning change, substantial development has not occurred on the property.

Leeper explained that if the zoning reverts back to ag, the drop in value of the parcel could be as high as $300,000, according to one estimate. Leeper bought the property with the RR zoning and paid the RR zoning price.

In addition, 10-acre zoning wouldn't be available to him in the future, since zoning in the Bondurant area now requires 35-acre lots.

If the zoning doesn't revert, Leeper is required to file a final plat, which would made him lose his agricultural-based tax assessment. Leeper said he has a viable ag operation occurring there now.

The commission noted Leeper is somewhat between a rock and a hard place.

Cramer made the motion to allow Leeper to keep the land zoned RR-10 for another two years to make a decision about what zoning he would like to have on the land. Leeper is required to file a plat within that time period, or at the conclusion of the two years, the commission could vote to revert the zoning back to agricultural.

Johnston said he opposed the motion because he didn't want to provide a means to circumvent the 35-acre requirement for the Bondurant community. Fear seconded Cramer's motion and it passed.

The commission approved reverting the rezoning on William Koch's land, from RR-10 to agricultural, on 156 acres.

P&Z issues ended up taking up two and a half hours of discussion Tuesday afternoon, far more time than the one hour allotted.

Property rights?

At Tuesday's Sublette County Commission meeting, after dealing with the P&Z issues, Johnston said he had concerns about two P&Z Commissioners and statements they had made. Johnston did not name the commissioners.

He said, "I think that two of them have attitudes which are not compatible with the goals of our regulations."

Fear responded by stating that there were issues raised in denying applications that weren't part of the criteria that the P&Z is supposed to use.

Johnston said: "But you have two members of the board who say we can't screw around with property rights; If the landowner wants to do anything with it, who are we to stand in his way, and that I think is a hell of an attitude."

Fear noted that there are some strong property rights proponents in the county.

Johnston quoted the P&Z Commission minutes that included a statement by a P&Z Commissioner, "What gives the commission the right to curtail a developer's wishes?"

Although Johnston didn't say who was being quoted, the statement in the document was attributed to P&Z Commissioner Jay Anderson.

Johnston said he was saving the meeting minutes "because I intend to bring them up again."

Fear questioned why inflammatory remarks are put in the P&Z meeting minutes, but Johnston countered that he was glad they were, so he knew where the commission members stood on issues.

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