As someone who lives outside city limits, Richard Weron does not vote for members of the Laramie City Council. He does, however, have to plead with the Council against annexing an almost six-acre property on Bobolink Lane and developing high-density housing on it.
Weron was one of many county residents who spoke against the development to the Council during Tuesday’s meeting, both during public hearings and the subsequent agenda items.
The Council narrowly approved the second reading to annex the parcel of land with a 5-4 vote. Councilwoman Jessica Stalder, Mayor Joe Shumway, Vice Mayor Pat Gabriel and Councilmen Bryan Shuster and Brian Harrington were the votes in approval.
Not only would the property bring hundreds of thousands of dollars in building and permit fees to the city, but it would help provide much needed housing diversity to the area and city as a whole.
Despite the need, residents of the neighborhood around the proposed development noted how much the potential high-density housing would affect them.
The developer would be responsible for paving Bobolink Lane from Vista Drive to Fairview Drive, but maintaining the surrounding county roads falls on residents like Animal Health Center owner Shawn Sanders, who has used his own funds and tractor to try to fill potholes on Bobolink Lane.
“In my opinion, if you put another 30 houses right there, with many of them accessing their driveways from Bobolink (Lane), it’s only going to increase that cost for myself if the roads aren’t done properly all the way to Grand (Avenue),” Sanders said.
The city’s Associate Planner Matt Cox noted that the city has no control of the county portion from Fairview Drive to Grand Avenue, and the county “signed off on the application for this road to be taken over by the city if annexation is approved.”
City Staff and the Planning Commission recommended R3 zoning for the property — which allows for dense, multi-family housing— but the Council voted 6-3 zone the property R2. In an R2 zone, the highest density permitted would be a fourplex.
Councilwoman Erin O’Doherty, Councilman Charles McKinney and Councilman Paul Weaver voted no on the zoning choice.
The developer’s engineer, Collin Fossen, said changing to R2 would affect what floor plans and housing units would be able to fit on the lot due to setback requirements and other factors.
Many of the public comments noted the property’s location within the Casper Aquifer Protection Overlay Zone and a fault line vulnerability feature.
City staff noted connecting the property to city water and sewer would run a lower risk to the aquifer than installing septic systems, which would be the developer’s option should the property not be annexed. Many council members, including Shumway, expressed concerns about having septic tanks over the aquifer
Harrington noted his reason for proposing the amendment to step down the zoning to R2 is in part because of the aquifer.
“My intention is to sort of lessen the impact to the neighbors while still allowing the developer to move forward with the general essence of the proposed project so that we do not end up in a situation where this is developed in the county with 10 septic systems,” Harrington said. “Septic systems are not a viable second option on the aquifer.”
Noting the need for housing, Weaver responded that reducing the zoning might not get the positive compromise they’re looking for.
“The only positive I can see out of this is an increase in the housing inventory,” he said. “So to vote to annex it and then to vote to lessen the density basically robs any utility from this whatsoever from my point of view. Why bother?”
He added he felt the city is not very consistent at prioritizing aquifer protection.
Many of the Council members, including O’Doherty and Councilwoman Jayne Pearce, expressed a desire to find a compromise between the neighbors’ concerns and the need for housing in Laramie.
Both measures will advance to a third and final reading.