The Albany County Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously to reject a 90-day moratorium that would have prohibited development within the Casper Aquifer Overlay Zone during Wednesday’s meeting.
Planning commission member Keith Kennedy was absent for the meeting.
The decision lifts the moratorium, which would have prevented “any building permit, subdivision plat or any other development, construction, or land use or zoning application regarding property situated in whole or in part within the Aquifer Protection Overlay Zone.”
After expressing concerns about making such a major decision without any input from County Planner David Gertsch, who is on vacation, the commission members agreed to reconsider a possible moratorium in the aquifer overlay zone once they can receive Gertsch’s input on potential exemptions to the moratorium during a special meeting next week.
The moratorium was first issued by the Albany County Commission during a series of emergency special meetings earlier this week.
Planning commission member David Cunningham said he had a “very strong objection to the whole idea of a moratorium of this kind in a construction season at all,” due to potential hardship on property owners and construction companies during Wyoming’s short construction season.
Albany County Attorney Peggy Trent explained there would be a process in place for residents to be able to apply to be exempt for the moratorium if the construction project meets certain requirements, including extra inspection by an engineer, to ensure it will not damage the aquifer.
One member of the public, Cheri Frank, expressed concerns that the exemption process is not formally part of the moratorium.
“There is an exemption process that is proposed, but it is not clearly in place saying that we will still have opportunities as residents in that area to do what has been part of the regulation process,” she said.
Many of the regulations proposed as part of the exemption process are already in place, but the county has a hard time enforcing them, Trent said. Beyond sending cease and desist letters, the county wants more written policy in place to enforce nonconforming zoning uses.
Mitch Edwards, attorney with Nicholas and Tangemen, argued the regulations proposed with the moratorium are redundant with the County’s current zoning certificate regulations.
He added the county needed to be careful not to require applications or zoning certificates for businesses with a grandfathered use in order for them to continue the same use, which would go against state statute.
Trent clarified the proposed applications and regulations for construction within the aquifer overlay zone would only apply to grandfathered uses if they were planning to expand or change their current use.
Many of the planning commission members expressed frustration that the meetings and decisions were occurring without much notice to the public. Planning commission member John Spiegelberg said he was “blindsided” by the addition to their Wednesday agenda.
Spiegelberg was also very opposed to a 90-day moratorium, saying the length of time was “ludicrous.”
“David Gertsch, he’s very thorough,” Spiegelberg said. “I don’t know why this cannot be turned over to David to fine tune and come up with something to present. Ninety days — that’s three months.”
Trent said the 90 days was established in part to accommodate a 45-day public comment period, but the county would try to complete the process in under 90 days if the moratorium would have been approved.
Although Trent had expressed concerns during a commission meeting Tuesday she felt some members of the planning commission should recuse themselves for potential conflicts of interest, none of the present members chose to do so. Planning Commission Chair Shaun Moore said while he previously owned land in the overlay zone, he had sold in in 2015 and felt it did not conflict with his ability to vote. The other members agreed with his assessment.