The Albany County Commission denied a proposed zoning change Tuesday that sought to develop businesses on Wyoming Highway 130 near Sheep Mountain.
The commissioners overruled the recommendation of their own planning and zoning board, which signed off on the change despite backlash from local residents.
Albany County Attorney Peggy Trent noted the commissioners’ action was unusual.
“I’ve been doing this for five years, and I’ve never had this happen where we voted it down like this,” she said.
Commissioner Heber Richardson initially suggested he’d support the planning board’s recommendation, noting the developer had complied with all regulations.
“The issue is that we don’t follow our own regulations, it’s arbitrary and capricious,” he said. “We can’t just stop following our regulations because we don’t like the project, and I don’t like the project.”
However, both he and commissioner Pete Gosar ultimately voted against the zoning change.
Richardson expressed skepticism about whether, if the zoning changes had been approved, the property would be developed.
He said constructing a business that needs water on the land was a “fool’s errand.”
It’s more likely, he said, that the zoning change was sought simply to increase the land’s value.
The county had been requested to change the land-use of a 29-acre parcel on the corner of highway 130 and Big Hollow Road to be zoned as commercial property to support “a possible convenience store, gas station, bait shop, or similar type businesses.”
The developer put in the application that the construction would require new electric utilities and telephone services.
Several residents from Centennial and Wild Horse Ranch came to the county board to protest the proposed change, citing concerns like light pollution, safety, traffic and loss of “open spaces.”
“I’m concerned about traffic flow because it would require a left-hand turn off the highway,” Centennial resident Nancy Zennie told commissioners.
Ken Costello, who lives in Centennial, said the county’s fire suppression efforts are already greatly hampered in the Wild Horse Ranch area.
“If the property owner wants to suffer the higher insurance costs from being so far from fire protection, that’s up to them. However, I think we owe a higher standard for commercial property to any patrons who would use that facility,” Costello said.
Wild Horse Wyoming Properties, LLC, had proposed eventually subdividing the property into 10 commercial lots, each covering three acres or less.
After the Arizona-based company purchased the 15,500-acre Wild Horse Ranch a decade ago, the area has since been developed into 376 parcels, each about 40-acres.
The land is currently zoned for agriculture. The Albany County Comprehensive Plan, enacted in 2008, also envisions the land as staying agricultural in the long-run.
County planning director David Gertsch said that, if the county board opted to move forward on the change, the comprehensive plan should also be changed.
Art Sigel, chairman of Albany County Fire District No. 1, requested the planning board deny the change, saying that Wild Horse Ranch roads should first be upgraded “to a standard acceptable for fire equipment.”
Albany County Sheriff Dave O’Malley said he supported Sigel’s concerns. Tony Hoch, director of the Laramie Rivers Conservation District, said the zoning change shouldn’t happen if potable well water isn’t available.
Chuck Bartlett, an engineer working on the project, acknowledged that the land is unlikely to produce potable water, and said new businesses would likely have to rely on cisterns.
Sigel said cisterns are not reliable sources of water in fire suppression situations.
“When you get there and you’re in an emergency environment, they don’t work,” he said. “Stored water just doesn’t seem to work in the county.”
The Albany County Comprehensive Plan indicates areas zoned for rural commercial use “should have water and sewer availability.”
Commissioners expressed uncertainty Tuesday over whether cistern-based water access met the comprehensive plan’s stipulation regarding water.
Officials for the Wyoming Department of Transportation and county said upgrades to Wyoming Highway 130 and Big Hollow Road would likely need to be installed if there would be commercial buildings constructed.