Commission fines Wapiti restaurant for hosting outdoor concert last fall

Posted 3/22/22

The owners of a Wapiti restaurant and guest ranch have been ordered to pay a $750 fine for holding an outdoor concert last fall — something prohibited by the establishment’s permit from …

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Commission fines Wapiti restaurant for hosting outdoor concert last fall


The owners of a Wapiti restaurant and guest ranch have been ordered to pay a $750 fine for holding an outdoor concert last fall — something prohibited by the establishment’s permit from the Park County Commission.

When the Yellowstone Cutthroat Guest Ranch received a special use permit (SUP) from the county in 2017, it came with a series of conditions meant to address the concerns of neighbors, who had initially voiced strong opposition to the business’s plans. The permit generally bans outdoor amplified entertainment, but in September, the Cutthroat hosted country artist Tyler Farr on its deck for a crowd of about 70 people.

At a March 1 meeting on the violation, Owners Randel and Courtney Hooper explained that the event came together at the last minute, and because of Farr’s concerns about COVID-19, they were unable to host it inside the restaurant.

“We had a short amount of time, we had an opportunity, we took,” Randel Hooper said.

However, commissioners — who previously fined the Cutthroat for holding a 2020 music festival and explicitly rejected a request to allow more outdoor entertainment at the guest ranch — expressed frustration about the fall concert.

“With all the controversy we’ve had over you and your SUP you should have said, ‘I’m sorry, we can’t do this,’” said Commissioner Joe Tilden, adding, “As far as I’m concerned, we’ve bent over backwards to accommodate you and it’s like, ‘By God, I’m going to do it anyway.’”

Commissioner Lloyd Thiel said he personally doesn’t understand the objections that neighbors have raised with the business and said he sympathized with the Hoopers, but he noted an agreement was struck and rules imposed. At one point, Thiel indicated he was leaning toward revoking the Hoopers’ special use permit, which would effectively shut down the guest ranch.

“I don’t necessarily agree with all the rules, but we have them and we need to enforce them and make a statement,” Thiel said.

Commissioner Scott Mangold, who joined the board in 2021, raised the possibility of letting the business off with a warning, but his fellow board members felt they had been clear in the past.

“You were told ‘don’t do this’ [and] you chose to do it,” a “disappointed” Commissioner Lee Livingston told the Hoopers. “You say it’s never going to happen again — until maybe the next time. That’s the problem I have with it, is keeping your word. And you haven’t.”

For their part, the Hoopers acknowledged they had made a mistake amid the last-minute plans and would not do it again.

“I know we are at fault, there’s zero denying that,” Courtney Hooper said, pledging to hold future concerts and festivals at other venues.

Randel Hooper noted that the couple is bringing both music and revenue to the area.

“We did it because we enjoy music,” he said, adding that, “Whatever I need to do to be compliant, that’s what I’m trying to do.”

The couple has been operating under heightened scrutiny since opening their restaurant, bar and guest ranch in 2017. When the Hoopers first sought a permit for the highway commercial business — located along Stagecoach Trail in a generally residential area — it drew fierce opposition from many neighbors; some commissioners have said they were leaning toward rejecting the requested permit.

However, the Hoopers and their neighbors ultimately struck an agreement that cleared the way for the Yellowstone Cutthroat Guest Ranch to open with a number of restrictions that, for instance, limited future expansion. It was cheered as a win for neighborly negotiations. But the relationship has since deteriorated, including over multi-day music festivals held in 2019 and 2020 that neighbors decried as violations of their agreement.

When the Cutthroat hosted Farr on Sept. 12, Commissioner Dossie Overfield immediately got a complaint from a neighbor, Rob Burgin, while another neighbor, Don Getty, soon sent the County Planning and Zoning Department photos of the event and a screenshot of an advertisement.

Planning Director Joy Hill opened an investigation and ultimately issued the Hoopers a notice of violation for holding the unpermitted event and using chemical toilets in violation of county regulations. In a written report, Hill said Randel Hooper denied using speakers during the concert, but that was contradicted by a Facebook video she reviewed. As for the toilets, Randel Hooper explained they had been left over from a wedding the previous day, and commissioners agreed to waive any penalties for that alleged violation. He also told commissioners he’s tried several times to extend olive branches to his neighbors “and basically been told to eff off.”

At last week’s meeting, Commissioner Overfield noted that this wasn’t the first time the Cutthroat had run into trouble with the county, pointing to the $300 fine imposed for the 2020 violation.

“That should have really jumped to the forefront of your mind when this question [of hosting the concert] came up,” she said, “and I’m frustrated that it didn’t.”

It was shortly after those remarks that Commissioner Thiel raised the possibility of revoking the permit.

“So you’d put us out of business,” Randel Hooper said.

However, Livingston later argued that it would be a case of “putting yourself out of business.”

“I’m pretty clear on that,” Randel Hooper responded, adding that, “If this ever happens again, you can close me down. Because it won’t happen again.”

While the commission’s $750 fine ended the dispute related to the concert, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality is also, at the county’s request, investigating whether the water and wastewater systems for the restaurant, bar and cabins comply with state regulations. Randel Hooper said the business hasn’t had any problems with its water or septic systems and will do anything needed to become compliant.