Negotiations with a private company to add a senior housing project to Laramie’s east side are “progressing well and it looks like things are going to work out,” City Manager Janine Jordan said Thursday.
Earlier this month, the project’s developer, Cornerstone Associates, expressed a desire to get a deal finalized by the end of August — a demand that put the city in a time-crunch to secure covenant changes for Crystal Court, the cul-de-sac where the senior housing is planned.
Approval for the covenant changes was needed from five other local landowners: Albany County, Albany County School District No. 1, Laramie County Community College, the Wyoming Community Development Group and the Mountain West Farm Bureau.
When the County Commission approved the covenant changes last week, county officials expressed frustration at the city’s process in negotiating the development.
Albany County Attorney Peggy Trent said it put the county, ACSD No. 1 and LCCC in “an awkward position” when the city negotiated a deal with Cornerstone before seeking covenant changes.
While the city’s approach wasn’t unlawful, Trent said it is, in spirit, akin to a developer selling a parcel of land before securing the necessary plats — an action prohibited in Wyoming statute.
“We, as governments, should be held to a higher standard,” Trent said. “If we’re asking our citizens to abide by the Unified Development Code, we should hold ourselves to same standards of communication and development.”
City attorney Robert Southard said he was “quite taken aback” by Trent’s concerns.
“This is an absolutely standard real estate transaction,” he said. “Cornerstone understood that a bunch of hoops had to be jumped through to consummate this transaction.”
The December “option to buy” approved by Laramie City Council stipulates that “city and buyer acknowledge that zoning, planning, land use, or other ordinance changes may be necessary to permit the project to be built on the property” and the senior housing plan might need to satisfy private development restrictions that “depend in part on third party approval or action.”
Albany County Commissioners expressed frustration that setbacks changes were approved for the Cornerstone property, but not the Crystal Court parcels the county plans to develop.
“We need a big giant acme safe to fall out of the sky on certain owners in the Turner Tract association,” Commissioner Heber Richardson said last week when the county board approved the city’s request.
While council-members had hoped to ease development rules for all properties on Crystal Court, the school board only approved changes to setbacks on the property slated for the senior housing development.
“This is different than the direction I thought we were going in after the meeting last week,” Mayor Andi Summerville said when the school board voted earlier this month.
School board chair Janice Marshall said her group still wanted to have a “broader discussion” on what type of development the city is hoping for Crystal Court.
The Turner Tract is a roughly 628-acre portion of land on Laramie’s east side that was deeded to the city in 1942. The city adopted a development plan in 2001 for the land that now includes both Walmart and Laramie High School.
A smaller portion of the Turner Tract, including Crystal Court, imposes strict development rules — called covenants — and contains land owned by the city and five other owners, who need to sign off on any covenant changes.
The covenants for Crystal Court, which has six lots that are all undeveloped, require buildings to be set-back 30 feet from adjacent property and 80 feet from the road. Considering how small the lots on Crystal Court are, Jordan said those rules have “effectively stripped the land of its develop-ability.”
The proposed covenant change would require buildings to only be setback 10 feet from the road and five feet from adjacent property.
Chairman of the Laramie Chamber Business Alliance Brad Coffey said this month the set-back changes for Crystal Court would help Laramie to have more “shovel-ready” property.
“We still don’t have that much property that’s shovel-ready,” he said. “I hate to see what will happen if (the senior housing project) falls apart. I’m afraid that this will send a message to the business community at large that this city is not ready for new business.”