A joint meeting between the Laramie City Council and Albany County Commission on Wednesday touched on several topics and brought about extra-territorial jurisdiction to the surface questions.
After hosting a special meeting to approve the city’s supplemental budget, the council adjourned to work session with the commissioners to discuss planning.
To facilitate the conversation, two University of Wyoming professors — Bill Gribb and Jeff Hamerlinck— gave a presentation about the history and definition of intergovernmental planning.
“We work as a land-grant institution,” Gribb said. “Communities ask us to help them, and we go out and work with them.”
He said the need for city planning was a common discussion throughout the ages and at levels of government.
“Planning isn’t something that came in the last decade or the last 25 years,” Gribb said. “This concept has been well established. But for some people, planning may be a four-letter word. They think of it as heavy-handed government control.”
When it comes to private property, Hamerlinck said a tradition of allowing property owners to mostly regulate themselves has existed for centuries.
But private property comes with a mix of rights and benefits as well as duties and obligations, he said. While property owners enjoy personal use, property protection and aesthetics, he said they must balance those benefits with mortgage contracts, taxes and refraining from creating a public nuisance.
“The government also has rights on that property,” Hamerlinck said. “They can enforce taxes, put a lien on it or protect endangered species on it.”
Whether it’s zoning districts, planning roadways or regulating private properties, Gribb said planning was a process.
“It starts with a community vision,” he said. “The whole purpose of planning is figuring out what you want with a community and how to get there.”
While intergovernmental cooperation is fundamental to successful planning, Gribb said the residents play a significant role as well.
“Citizens have the right to come forward and tell you what they want,” he said. “But you need to look at the whole community.”
One area where residents, agencies and planning collide is the 1-mile radius around city limits commonly referred to as the doughnut. By state statute, both the city and the county share jurisdiction in the doughnut, but recent legislation permitted the county to be the deciding body on policies affecting the radius. The decision has been a source of contention between the council and the commissioners, which led to the commissioners nullifying all city ordinances applicable to the doughnut.
“One of the challenges we have is no say in anything that’s going on in the doughnut,” Councilor Joe Shumway said. “What’s to stop someone buying a huge chunk of land on the Casper Aquifer and developing some company that draws huge amounts of water and drying out the town?”
Commission Chairman Tim Chestnut said the areas in the doughnut above the aquifer are zoned as agricultural preventing, industrial use of the water supply.
Shumway said becoming an “aromatic city” such as Greeley, Colorado, which hosts a cattle stock yard, was another concern.
“We can’t let people come in with pig farms and cattle yards that would change our community,” Shumway said. “Unless we sit down and do something together, somebody could come in with huge amounts of money and change our whole idea of what Albany County looks like.”
Commissioner Heber Richardson said Albany County does not attract the agricultural industry in the same ways as Goshen County or Weld County, Colorado.
“I don’t think there is really a disagreement in the vision,” Richardson said. “The sticky part is the process — we don’t actually have a process. The city has a tendency to overexert itself. It’s not that we don’t have the same ideas in mind, but maybe we don’t all have the same idea about how to get there.”
During the planning presentation, Gribb said several cities in the region work with an advising body composed of appointed members from both the city and the county to determine how best to regulate doughnut areas.
“I really like the idea of an extra-territorial committee,” Councilor Vicki Henry said.
However, none of the commissioners spoke in favor of the idea.
“I’m not ready to put that role into someone else’s hands, because I am elected to do that,” Chestnut said.
While the possibility of an agreement wasn’t discussed, Vice Mayor Jayne Pearce said she didn’t want the discussion to die after Tuesday.
“I think whatever we do, we need to continue to talk about it,” Pearce said.