The Albany County Planning and Zoning Commission made more proposed changes to the Aquifer Protection Overlay Zone development regulations in a meeting last week. The most recent proposals would be less stringent than the previously drafted changes that had been considered a few months ago.
The Planning Commission had a joint work session with the County Commissioners in February to work on the regulations and incorporate the comments received from the public in a 45-day public comment period.
At that work session, one of the biggest changes the planning board and commissioners made was to change the amount of time a nonconforming use can be in disuse before losing its nonconforming use status. Formerly 24 months, those at the joint work session chose to change it to 12 months.
When the draft regulations made it back to the Planning Commission May 13 for further editing, the Planning Commission chose to again change the amount of time a nonconforming use can be out of operation.
Planning Member John Spiegelberg initially proposed to give less time than 12 months.
“The more time you give some of these people, the more you’re asking for trouble to go beyond the one year,” Spiegelberg said.
Planning Chairman Shaun Moore differed from Spiegelberg.
“If there is a noncontinuous use, due to damage to a property, sometimes there’s things out of your control, for example if there was something with a criminal investigation, or its insurance related, 12 months might not be enough,” Moore said. “If it’s something that’s out of their control, are we gonna penalize the property owner?”
Planning Member Keith Kennedy agreed with Moore’s concerns, at which point Planning Member David Cunningham proposed making it 18 months, a number the members agreed on.
In the February joint work session, the definition of “expansion” of a nonconforming use was also discussed. Ultimately, the two entities could not reach a conclusion.
However, in the Planning Commission’s May 13 meeting, the members proposed to allow for expansion of a nonconforming use.
“I think it’s ludicrous to think if somebody wants to improve their property, as long as it’s the same business, same operation, why we wouldn’t want them to improve their property,” Moore said.
Moore also mentioned the city of Laramie allows for expansions in its APOZ regulations, saying the County’s regulations are more strict than the city’s.
The planning members agreed with Moore’s comments, and planning board member Keith Kennedy proposed to change the wording in the regulations to the following: “Expansion of nonconforming uses are permitted if the applicant demonstrates a lessened vulnerability of the aquifer to contamination.”
“That sets the bar kind of high, because they have to show that it lessens the vulnerability,” Kennedy added.
The Planning Commission ultimately chose to allow expansion of a nonconforming use, using the wording Kennedy proposed.
Another area the Planning Commission addressed in its May 13 meeting was the design standards for on-site wastewater treatment systems.
The regulation currently reads “The installation, design, repair, and removal of septic systems located within the APOZ must be in accordance with plans and specifications certified by a professional engineer or professional geologist registered to practice in the State of Wyoming.”
“One thing that glared out at me was the term ‘repair,’” Spiegleberg said. “To me this is just piling more and more financial burden on a homeowner, and to me I would like to see the word ‘repair’ totally stricken from that first sentence.”
Spiegelberg said he thinks a contractor can handle the repair of a leach line without a professional engineer or geologist overseeing it.
“This whole thing, unfortunately, almost sounds like the engineer and geologist retirement act,” Cunningham said. He then proposed to change the wording to “installation and design” and strike both “repair” and “removal.” The Planning Commission chose to go with Cunningham’s suggestion.
The Planning Commission’s May 13 meeting in which these changes were made happened after the county board, in its April 7 meeting, chose to send the regulations back to the Planning Commission for further consideration.
At the April meeting, the commissioners were set to publish the proposed amendments discussed in the February joint work session for a 45-day public comment period. However, in that meeting, the commissioners said they had received comments from the public that followed up on the joint work session, comments worth considering before the document went out for another 45-day public comment period.
“If those are valid comments that you would like to have considered, we have no problem doing that (sending the APOZ regulations back to Planning and Zoning),” Albany County Planner David Gertsch said at the April 7 meeting.
Aside from receiving more comments they wanted to consider, the commissioners themselves simply had more to discuss about the regulations.
“If we accept them (the regulations) and send them out for comment, we would get all of these comments that we’re making plus more, and then if we were to make substantial changes at the end of 45 days of comment, that would take some time, and then we would end up having to extend our moratorium again,” Commissioner Heber Richardson said April 7.
“The more we can get done now and squared away, the closer we will be when we publish, because we really don’t want to keep publishing either, I mean that’s an additional cost to the County to keep publishing over and over,” Gertsch said, supporting Richardson’s suggestion to not publish the regulation amendments yet.
The commissioners then chose to send the regulations back to the Planning and Zoning Commission, with the directive to consider the public comments they had received and some of the things discussed in the commissioners’ meeting.
This decision and process caught the eye of Albany County Clean Water Advocates representative Sarah Gorin.
Gorin did not think it was fair to the public that some unsolicited comments were received by the commissioners, then sent for consideration to the Planning and Zoning Commission. This did not give the whole public a chance to comment on the regulations.
“Either the draft regulations are out for comment or they’re not — they’re not out for comment by some people and not for others,” Gorin said at the May 13 Planning Commission meeting.
The Albany County Clean Water Advocates sent in their own comments the day before the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting.
“We (ACCWA) knew this was gonna be on the agenda only because we were at the April 7 County Commission meeting, but we don’t represent everybody in Laramie who cares about what’s going on with the aquifer, so if anybody else was interested in commenting, how would they have known it was on the agenda until the agenda came out, at which point it’s too late to get comments in the packet?” Gorin told the Boomerang on Thursday.
At the meeting, the planning members were opposed to considering ACCWA’s comments because they were received only a day before.
“I object strenuously to considering any comments that were made at the last minute,” Cunningham said May 13. “The material that came to me requires a great deal of thought, and I’m unable to provide that thought in the short time frame it was provided.”
“The public could have some consideration for the planning office and our members to abide by those regulations and procedures to get this material well in advance so we could all get a look at it,” Spiegelberg said.
The county does not have a specific set of regulations and procedures for receiving and considering comments from the public outside of an official 45-day public comment period, which is how the public comments the county commissioners sent to the Planning Commission were initially received.
“Anything that’s provided before or during the meeting becomes part of the public record, whether Planning and Zoning or the Board of County Commissioners decides to review it, that’s kind of up to them,” Gertsch told the Boomerang on Thursday.
Gorin also took issue that the comments the commissioners received and passed to the Planning Commission were not attributed, whereas it is necessary that comments which become part of the public record must be attributed. She brought this up at the May 13 meeting, hoping the issue would be rectified.
Gertsch responded saying that was correct, then emailed the county clerk’s office to get the commenters’ names as part of public record.
Going forward, the proposed amendments to the APOZ regulations will again go before the county commissioners at their June 2 meeting, where the commissioners can choose to publish the proposed regulation changes for a 45-day public comment period.