SUBLETTE COUNTY – Sublette County commissioners voted by majority to support two very different rezone proposals at their Aug. 2 meeting.
Citizens spoke for and against rezoning two agricultural properties that will increase highway traffic between Pinedale and Jackson, as well as at busy intersections with county roads.
Traffic, among other concerns voiced that Tuesday, would not be studied until a developer submits a subdivision request to the Sublette County Planning & Zoning (P&Z) Office.
Rezoning approval is the first step; the second is proposing how to carve a property into its newly approved configurations.
That’s when the citizens’ concerns about water quality, increased traffic, proper access and wildlife obstacles are addressed, officials told them.
After a public comment period and asking their own questions, commissioners approved the Dover-Dorothy Noble Family Trust rezoning, 4-1.
After doing the same later in the Aug. 2 meeting for Jason Moyes’ request to rezone 299 ranch acres 7 miles north of Daniel to Rural Resident-5, commissioners were less gung-ho, voting, 3-2, to approve the request.
County planner Dennis Fornstrom said that the Sublette County P&Z Board had a “lengthy discussion on this” at its July 21meeting after hearing a great deal of information about wildlife migration routes and habitat. Still, the board voted, 4-1, to recommend the rezoning to commissioners.
Commissioners Doug Vickrey, Sam White, Tom Noble, Dave Stephens and chair Joel Bousman
heard from Rio Verde consultant Aaron Seehafer, landowner Jason Moyes and Wyoming Game and Fish wildlife manager Brandon Scurlock.
Scurlock also attended the P&Z board meeting, with substantial data and mapping of mule deer and pronghorn use; the Moyes parcel falls over the state-designated Sublette Mule Deer Corridor on the west side of Highway 191.
“Off the bat, the Game and Fish is here – we were provided no background about the mule deer discussion with the P&Z commission and I would have appreciated having that in my pocket,” Bousman told Fornstrom.
Fornstrom said he didn’t include that information with the staff report because it wasn’t requested.
“Brandon is here today so we can hear more about that,” Bousman said.
Scurlock said the Red Desert to Hoback Mule Deer Migration Corridor is state-designated but the Governor’s Executive Order refers only to public lands development, not private. But the Moyes property is used as mule deer and pronghorn “essential” stopover habitat in the corridor, he added.
Bousman asked Scurlock where else nearby the pronghorn use stopovers; Scurlock said the pronghorn migration route is not yet official but GPS-collar data show they also use private property to the north.
“The property is pretty important to pronghorn for summer range and migrations,” he said. For “medium use” habitat, the EO recommends mitigation with development.
Bousman served as chair of the Governor’s Sublette Migration Corridor Working Group and while “nothing in his order affected private land … we encourage private property owners to work with Game and Fish regarding habitat and migration.”
He said there must be a way to develop “corrections” to serve mule deer and pronghorn – “to allow more wildlife to migrate and not lower his ability to sell his lots.”
Scurlock also discussed upcoming statewide greater sage-grouse development restrictions. This project will “break the ice” for future developers, Seehafer noted.
Seehafer said the property includes 84 acres of 1952 adjudicated water rights from the private Canyon Canal. Part of the Apex Irrigation Canal runs through Moyes’ property and they worked with neighboring Pape and Vandersloot ranches to adjust boundaries so each rancher controls its own portion of the Apex, he explained.
“Are wetlands an issue?” Noble asked.
“There appears to be a wetland after rezoning,” Seehafer said. “There are soggy areas.”
Besides wildlife use, the property’s terrain would also affect lot layout, he said. The Canyon Canal water rights would likely be divided, per the Wyoming State Engineer’s Office, and water pumped to the lots for use with sprinklers, he said.
Vickrey asked about the 10-acre “sliver” directly across Highway 191 to the east, at the corner of Forty Rod Road. Seehafer said a county road goes through “the bottom” of that lot. Vickrey asked if the homeowner there could still access it from Moyes’ piece instead of driving totally around the Forty Rod development.
“That’s between them and the property owner (Moyes),” Seehafer said. “The buildable part is the north half of the lot, between Moyes and (the neighbors). (The use) is not legally binding, taking shortcuts across other people’s property.”
Bousman asked if RR-5 zoning would “be big enough.”
“You’re asking for 5-acre zoning but you haven’t determined where those will be?” Noble asked.
Fornstrom said lots could be 5, 10 or 15 acres with a 5-acre minimum and “family divisions cannot happen in a major subdivision.”
“Can we preserve an opportunity for Game and Fish to sit down with the landowners and find a way for migration to occur,” Bousman asked.
Fornstrom said there “are lots of different ways” to do that. Seehafer said Moyes was willing to adjust building envelopes; perhaps a conservationist could buy a lot as open space.
Stephens said, “With 300 pronghorn on that hillside, I can see a disaster coming. … If we turn these animals into the highway they’re going to get killed.”
Vickrey spoke, reading a letter he submitted to the P&Z board for its July 21 meeting while he was at the Sublette County candidates’ forum.
His family ranches along the Pape Road near the river. “Without that subdivision, the traffic is untenable. … I believe (RR-5) will create a human cesspool,” he noted.
The ag property was not vacant but has been used for at least 80 years, he said. The pronghorn and mule deer stop on the flat and hillside and geese flock to the wetlands.
Many people are happy to move to Sublette County “and enjoy it as is,” Vickrey said.
“The whole deal is just bad for wildlife, for that part of the community. We need to make a stand,” Vickrey said. “It was bought as A1, leave it as A1.”
Snow removal, daily plowing, weather and traffic would create “a nightmare.”
Mark Anselmi of Cora, who addressed the P&Z board on July 21 about the designated mule deer corridor on July 21, said mule deer can’t be expected to go around subdivisions. Why couldn’t Moyes divide the 299 acres into 35-acre ag parcels, he commented.
Gary Sanders, who lives on Forty Rod, said he is “100 percent for this” rezoning. Available lots at Green River Ranches and Warren Bridge are inaccessible in winter and bringing more families to buy that property would mean “Forty Rod kids” could get a real bus stop. The animals “have that whole area” to find ways around a building, he added.
Sublette Chamber of Commerce Director Kaddy Shivers said the project “totally falls within that (goal of) business and growth.”
Betty Cundy, also a Forty Rod resident, said she was “totally against” rezoning. More traffic would travel the road“ as a shortcut to the Upper Green.” Wildlife graze, give birth and move through on land that has always been agricultural – “What people live here for will be ruined.”
John Carter of Hoback Ranches said, “Developments like this run counter to conservation easements,” and this proposal includes greater sage-grouse core habitat, elk migration and mule deer stopover habitat “right on top of a wetland.”
Chase Harber, owner of High Mountain Real Estate, said new housing lots are needed. He asked how many agricultural acres the county would have if rezoning never occurred.
“From 1977 on, you saw the entirety of Sublette County was blanket zoned agricultural,” Fornstrom said. “Public lands were not zoned. Ag (zoning) was one thing that everyone started out with.”
Bousman noted a much smaller population then, asking how many houses would the county have if the ag zoning never changed for subdivisions.
Green River Ranches was last developed in 1981, Fornstrom said. “A lot of that area was developed in the early ‘80s, around Cora. Around town in the ‘90s. For years and years we had a lot of inventory of lots. There’s not been a major subdivision since.”
Roy Dewitt, owner of Wind River Brewing Co., said he supports Moyes’ project and doesn’t like “this mentality of ‘I have arrived and shut the gates.’”
Accountant Lynn Bernard said his opinion was similar to Vickrey and Carter – “Not only are we building in a migration zone, we have no idea of the impacts (until we have) destroyed one of our resources here.”
Housing is needed, however.
“One more comment,” Bousman said.
Kyle Odermann, owner of Lakeside Lodge, said this development might not solve low-income housing needs but as property opens outside of Pinedale, owners would sell their homes in town. “I do understand the need to encourage those best practices (for wildlife).”
In his experience, “People aren’t criminals in 5-acre lots,” Moyes said.
“The majority of the migration corridor is further to the west,” he said. “This is ‘low use.’”
Creating inventory will stabilize prices and offer families an opportunity, he said. “We’re here and the money is going to stay here.”
And making nine 35-acre parcels would allow him “no control” of its development.
Bousman allowed one final comment of opposition from Bondurant landowner Dan Bailey, who addressed the Red Desert to Hoback Mule Deer Migration Corridor.
The Sublette County Comprehensive Plan already recognizes specific migration corridors and crucial “sensitive” habitats, Bailey said. “The mule deer population is down 32 percent below the (Game and Fish) population goal.”
Moyes could bring in $20 million selling 50 houses and lots on land once used for grazing and hay meadows, Bailey said.
Moyes bought the 299 acres in May – “He would only suffer hardship of his own making.”
Commissioner White moved to approve the rezoning, seconded by Noble.
Bousman said Moyes’ subdivision application needs to pinpoint and meet their concerns and conditions.
Stephens asked Chamber Director Shivers if she spoke for all members; she said she was stating the chamber’s mission.
“When you come to us,” Noble told Moyes, he should be prepared to address riparian issues and migration corridors. “You have complete control over it.”
Vickrey referred to “low income housing” someone mentioned – “Who put that out there? What are you going to sell your houses for?”
Moyes replied, “It depends.”
“Are you envisioning half as 5 acres, the rest 10 acres? The more little boxes you sell, the greater your income will be,” Vickrey said.
“We’re not marketing this as low-income housing,” Moyes said.
Commissioners White, Noble and Bousman voted as a majority to approve Moyes’ rezoning application; Stephens and Vickrey voted “nay.”