County P&Z certifies revised land use plan over objections

Posted 1/25/24

After a more-than-three-hour meeting that featured dozens of public comments, the Park County Planning and Zoning Commission certified a land use plan with language opposed by most of those in …

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County P&Z certifies revised land use plan over objections


After a more-than-three-hour meeting that featured dozens of public comments, the Park County Planning and Zoning Commission certified a land use plan with language opposed by most of those in attendance.

The plan was revised by the board and Park County commissioners in November after a flood of public commenters expressed concern that the draft would allow government overreach and result in a loss of private property rights. However, the county officials’ decision to back off of a full low, medium and high use version of the big game overlay and more specific language on minimum lot size averages in agricultural areas, in turn, raised objections from those who preferred the original version.

Dozens of people crowded into Grizzly Hall at the Cody Library for Tuesday’s special meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission. A majority of the roughly 70 people who spoke called for a return to the language that appeared within the land use plan last fall, especially asking for a return to a full big game overlay and language specifying 20-acre lot size average within the ag overlay.

But P&Z members defended and decided to stick with the second draft, saying the plan still allows for consultation with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and for a variety of acreage minimums in ag areas. After the meeting, a couple P&Z members told a frustrated commenter that they had received many comments in favor of the November revisions.

Following the hours of discussion, the board’s decision to stand by the revised plan left many of those remaining in attendance dissatisfied.

“I don't even know what the purpose of this was," said North Fork resident Brian Clarkson, who helped put together the plan’s original overlays for big game use map overlays. During their recent revisions, county officials opted to eliminate the medium and low density big game overlay zones, leaving only the high density area, covering about 11,000 acres of private land.

“I’m disappointed in you allowing this revision to go forward,” said North Fork resident Mary McKinney, who said she was speaking personally and not in her capacity with Park County Weed and Pest. “The first draft was more representative of what the county wanted … and keeping only the high use [big game] overlay serves little purpose.”

However, a handful of commenters urged the passage of the revised plan.

“Nothing is going to be perfect, so I think we should move forward,” said Cody resident and developer Ed Higbie. “If you’re going to go to the bathroom, either get in and go or get off the pot.”

Most of the people speaking, either for or against the revised plan, noted how long they had been residents of the county. Many expressed fears of the county changing into the next Bozeman or into the Colorado front range if subdivisions continue to be built on prime ag land and important wildlife habitat.

“I urge you to include all parts to the big game overlay,” said Cody resident Emily Reed, who has studied wildlife migration in big game animals. “I think you’ve done a good job of compromising to 20 acres. It’s tough to imagine 1 acre minimums. It makes me really nervous with subdivisions having water issues.”

Following the more than two hours of public comment, P&Z chair Duncan Bonine noted that the current land use plan lacks any kind of big game overlay and offered an explanation for why the draft language was changed.

"We can say the big game overlay is a great thing, put it in place, and another board, or commission, can turn it into a mechanism to restrict private property rights,” Bonine said.

However, Kelly Spiering, a Heart Mountain area farmer, said the land use plan is meant as a statement on where the county is at the moment, and not language people should be worried about down the road.

"If you don’t trust the future people we elect, you're limiting education out of fear," Spiering said in supporting including the full big game overlay as education.

P&Z member Brian Peters said the board wanted to provide that education, but couldn’t find a way to make it prominent in the plan without raising the concern it could be misused down the road.

For her part, Kimberly Brandon-Wintermote questioned whether just the high use of the big game overlay was enough, though she said she liked that it will remain in the appendix of the plan.  

On the issue of 20-acre minimums, Wintermote said that language wasn’t something the board members heard much about and thus can't "hang their hat on it. "

"I'm not in favor of 1 acre minimums," she added. "We are not changing the zoning in these areas. Just because we took that 20-acre minimum out does not mean it goes to 1-acre lot sizes."

P&Z member Guy Eastman said he believed the removal of the 20-acre minimums allowed for decisions on lot sizes to be “more locally decision based.” He also noted that the Game and Fish continues to have the opportunity to provide input on every project.

“I think there was a little bit of bad information thinking we were going to throw all Game and Fish info out the window,” Eastman said, adding, “The Game and Fish gets a lot of input in what we do and I don’t want people to think that will be going away."

During the meeting, County Planning Director Joy Hill also offered the attendees an explanation of the process while explaining the purpose of the land use plan and what it's not going to do.

"At the end of the day, the land use plan is not the rules, it is guidance," Hill said, adding, "The real beef of this whole thing is the regs. That is where you absolutely cannot be silent."

Once the Planning and Zoning Commission’s certification of the land use plan is recorded, the Park County Commissioners will need to wait at least 45 days for the plan to be published and a notice placed in county newspapers before holding another public hearing and voting on the document. The commissioners declined to certify the initial plan in October.

The county has already selected a contractor to help review and revamp its regulations, but the bulk of that work needs to wait until after the new plan is adopted.