The Sublette County Journal
Volume 4, Number 17 - 12/23/99
brought to you online by Pinedale Online
A conversation with Marlenn Wise
by Rob Shaul
Few people in Sublette County have as much firsthand experience with the county's planning and zoning goals and regulations as Pinedale's Marlenn Wise. Mr. Wise served on the county Planning and Zoning Commission for 18 years, until 1996. Fourteen of those years he was Chairman. Marlenn was also a member of the original committee that developed the current Sublette County Comprehensive Plan in 1978.
Today, as the County Commissioners are soliciting for volunteers to serve on a committee which will revise and update the Comprehensive Plan, I asked Marlenn to sit down and discuss his experiences as a member of the original committee, and to share his thoughts about changes that might need to be made to the county's planning and zoning goals and regulations.
Original Plan Committee
In 1977, when work began on the original comprehensive plan, Sublette County was even more rural and conservative than it is now, says Mr. Wise. Consequently, there was "really, really strong opposition" to the whole idea of planning and zoning. "I remember Paul Scherbel (then-chairman of the P&Z Commission) telling me that during hearings in 1977 it got so bad he had to take the back door to the courtroom."
The original Comprehensive Plan committee had members representing a broad "cross section" of Sublette County, says Mr. Wise. There were some very strong members on the committee, including Rick Samulski, former publisher and editor of the Pinedale Roundup, John Perry Barlow, and Big Piney's Leo Schueler.
Despite the committee's strong and opinionated membership, Mr. Wise says those involved never lost sight of the final goal. "Each person was pretty much an advocate of their own position, and wasn't afraid to voice their opinion. But when it came time to make a decision, they were willing to compromise." Further, Mr. Wise says that while there were personality conflicts on the original committee, all the members were willing to walk away at the end of a meeting and return the next day without holding grudges. There was a high degree of mutual respect for the other members and the structure of the committee.
"It was probably the most constructive committee I've ever served on," says Marlenn. "I was very proud of its accomplishments."
The County is Different Now
Mr. Wise began discussions to revise the current Comprehensive Plan in the late 1980s. At that time he wanted to update just the statistics used in the plan. Today, he feels a more thorough revision is needed to incorporate changes in the county that have occurred since the original plan was adopted in 1978.
Specifically, Mr. Wise points to the "explosion of activity" in natural gas development in the county, especially the north end of the county. Further changes include the accelerating construction and development of second and summer homes in the north, the entrepreneurship of small businesses in Pinedale, and the number of retirees moving into the county.
Also, Marlenn believes the agricultural industry in the county has declined significantly since 1978. He describes agriculture as a "static" industry in Sublette County and all of Wyoming. "Static" in the sense that it is not growing. "Pinedale is no longer a cow town like it was 40 years ago, or even 20 years ago," he says.
Changes Are Needed
Mr. Wise believes the Comprehensive Plan needs to be updated so it considers and incorporates the changes he's identified above.
He's further concerned about increasing real estate and housing prices in the northern end of the county and impacts these will have on the community. He believes the County should look to some of the actions Teton County has taken to encourage the construction of affordable housing in Jackson.
"I see a deterioration, whether we like it or not, of agriculture in our community and county," says Mr. Wise. Driving this deterioration is state law, which supersedes county zoning regulations and allows developers to break up ranches into parcels sized 35 acres or more without public input. He lists several old ranches in the county this has happened to - the old Kitchen Ranch, Pfisterer Ranch, Schwabacher's land south of Warren Bridge, part of the John Bloom Ranch in the Upper Green, and the Cottonwood places that Ron Saypol divided up when he developed the Ryegrass. He notes that in the past few years, property tax revenue from residential property in the county has exceeded that from lands assessed as agriculture.
Marlenn believes that if agriculture is not the main source of income on the property, then it should not be zoned A-1. He notes that a "great many people here are concerned with ranching, aesthetics, and open space." In terms of the Comprehensive Plan, he thinks any revision should still contain plenty of support for continuing agriculture in the county. However, he feels the current plan has too much support for agriculture and hasn't taken into account the deterioration of ag's influence in the county.
Mr. Wise would like to see more emphasis on "Planned Unit Developments" as tools we can use to preserve open space and aesthetics in the county. In these types of developments, a large block of land is developed, but the residences are clustered together in one or two acre lots and a large common "open space" area is created which all can share. He'd like to see the county encourage future developers into this type of development. "In the 10-, 20-, or 40-acre tracks, we lose the open space," he says.
Finally, Marlenn thinks the county needs some type of enforcement mechanism to ensure its planning and zoning regulations are followed. He advocates creating a system of fines to give the county regulations some teeth. He's also open to investigating whether the county should enforce subdivision covenants.
Though Marlenn believes the Comprehensive Plan needs revision, he's still very proud of Sublette County's progressiveness when it comes to planning and zoning. The current regulations are still flexible enough to serve both the public interest and address the interests of individual landowners, he says, noting that several other counties in Wyoming have used Sublette County's Comprehensive Plan and zoning regulations as models for their own. Finally, Marlenn emphasizes that the current Comprehensive Plan was "set up by the people of Sublette County themselves, through the hearing process," and because of this, it presented a vision of what we wanted the County to look like in years ahead.
Photo credits: Rob Shaul
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