With a narrow vote, the Laramie City Council voted to approve the annexation of a controversial subdivision on Bobolink Lane.
The annexation and potential high-density housing development at the Little Valley subdivision, located east of Laramie on the Casper Aquifer Protection Overlay Zone, saw heavy opposition from property neighbors during the first two readings and again during the third and final reading Tuesday night.
The council voted 5-3 to approve the annexation, with Councilman Charles McKinney and Councilwomen Erin O’Doherty and Jayne Pearce voting against.
Vice Mayor Pat Gabriel was absent for the annexation vote.
City staff has noted during all three readings the proposed development would provide the area with much-needed housing diversity, especially with Laramie High School, the Laramie Community Recreation Center and other amenities close by.
Additionally, the development would provide the city with hundreds of thousands of dollars in building permit fees, utility payments and property taxes.
Residents from the nearby homes and other members of the public, however, have repeatedly expressed concerns about the annexation and how the zoning allowing for high-density housing on the five-acre lot will affect the nearby dirt roads, businesses, residents and the Casper Aquifer.
Wanda McGuire Garcia said during her public comment the “quality of life is going to go down so much” for the neighborhoods around the new development and the neighbors never thought they’d “have to face anything like this.”
Nearby resident Richard Weron also noted how it will affect the quality of life, saying there’s “plenty of land around Laramie.”
“It seems to me that the only people that are benefiting from this are the city coffers, the developer, the realtor, the engineer — and we’re left to pick up the pieces when this is all done,” Weron said.
Although residents were concerned about the high-density zoning, City Attorney Bob Southard advised the council earlier in the meeting that any change from the property’s current zone R2, which allows up to a duplex, or R3 zoning, which allows for the highest density of housing, would involve taking the matter back before the city’s Planning Commission.
The developer, Z Homes & Properties, told the council he would “walk away” if the vote was to downgrade the zoning to R1, the option favored by the nearby residents, which only permits low-density single-family dwellings.
While originally considered a potential affordable housing opportunity for the city, the developer said the potential units would likely cost the same as the current median home price in Laramie, around $250,000. That price would double, he added, if the zoning were to change to R1.
“I think that doing anything other than R2 zoning in this not only hampers the developer here, but it hamstrings the city from being able to grow,” the developer’s engineer Collin Fossen said. “As a resident of Laramie, I am concerned that our City Council is against letting our city grow.”
The council voted 7-2 to zone the property R2, with McKinney and Pearce voting against.
It also voted to approve the Planning Commission’s change to the city’s comprehensive plan designating the property auto urban multifamily with a vote of 5-3. Councilmembers O’Doherty, Pearce and McKinney voted against the change, and Gabriel was absent for the vote.
While there was some concern about the presence of a potential fault zone in the Casper Aquifer on the property in previous readings, city staff explained to the council Tuesday the fault zones are not outlined in city ordinances about aquifer protection. The developer had followed each of the requirements laid out in city ordinance with no issues found.
Additionally, city code does not require any setbacks between single-family developments, like duplexes, and aquifer vulnerable features.
After the developer asked for more time to rework the preliminary plat and take into consideration different concerns from the Council and neighbors, the council voted unanimously to postpone the vote until the next meeting in October.
Throughout the three readings, many neighbors around the property voiced frustrations that the developer was not adhering to a set of covenants that many in the neighborhood agreed to; many of them purchased their properties over a decade ago.
During Tuesday’s meeting, members of the public noted the covenants, which limit more than one development on two acres, are a legal contract.
“I don’t know how you can break (the covenants),” McGuire Garcia said. “It doesn’t seem right to me that you can do that.”
Southard explained to the council the covenants are “irrelevant to the city’s decision” as they are made between private landowners.
“No matter what the city does, private contractual relationships between people exist,” Southard said. “By annexing or zoning in a certain way, those covenants are between individuals and there’s nothing that the city can do or should do or should even take into consideration.”
Weron said during one of his public comments Tuesday that many of the residents are willing to fight the council’s decision because of the covenants.