The Sublette County Journal
Volume 4, Number 26 - 2/24/00
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P&Z Tables Thompson Conditional Use Application
The Sublette County Planning & Zoning Commission has tabled indefinitely a conditional use permit submitted by Stuart and Mary Thompson for White Pine-related activities at their property on James Lane, above Pinedale.
Last fall, the County sued the Thompsons in district court over the commercial activities occurring at their ranch on James Lane. In addition to White Pine-related activities, the Thompsons used their ranch to support their homebuilding business, Logcrafters. They argued that the White Pine-related activities were allowed by the planning & zoning regulations, and that their Logcrafters operations were grandfathered.
The issue was brought to a head by the Thompsons' neighbors, Jud and Claire Faler. Last summer, the Falers requested a property tax abatement arguing that the Thompsons' commercial activity at the ranch decreased their property value. The abatement was not granted, but the request eventually led to the lawsuit.
The Thompsons lost their case on both counts in District Court. In September, District Court Judge Nicholas Kalokathis ruled that White Pine-related activities occurring at the Thompsons' James Lane ranch were illegal because they were not "incidental" to the ranch operations. Judge Kalokathis based his decision on economics. He argued that the White Pine-related activities had the potential to bring much more income to the Thompsons than the agricultural operations at the ranch, and therefore could not be "incidental" to the ranch.
The Thompsons appealed Kalokathis' decision to the Wyoming Supreme Court, which has yet to rule on the case.
In the meantime, White Pine opened for business in late December. Soon, snowplowing Skyline Drive to the ski area became a major issue. As part of his decision, Judge Kalokathis issued an order staying his decision, pending appeal. One of the stipulations of his order was that the Thompsons couldn't use their James Lane property to store the snowplow and sanding truck which they planned to use to plow the road.
In late December, USFS Pinedale District Ranger Bob Reese intervened, and asked the County Commissioners to alter the order so Mr. Thompson could use his James Lane property to store the plow truck. County Commissioners Betty Fear and Gordon Johnston reluctantly complied, but only after Mr. Thompson agreed to apply for a conditional use permit for his White Pine activities at James Lane through the Planning and Zoning Commission.
In accordance with their December agreement with the County Commissioners, the Thompsons applied for a conditional use permit to the P&Z Commission to "maintain facilities for hunting, fishing, horseback riding, hiking and winter sports recreation purposes." This language came right out of the regulations as to what is allowed on A-1 property without a conditional use.
In anticipation of Thursday's hearing, the P&Z Commission sent out 34 letters to the Thompsons' neighbors requesting comment on the proposed conditional use. Two letters in opposition were received, one from Ethelyn Worl, who expressed concerns over dust from increased traffic, and the other from an heir of hers.
Grace Anderson wrote that the current level of traffic was acceptable, but she didn't want to see an increase. Another couple, who own a lot on James Lane, told the commission they had "no problem" with the White Pine-related activities.
At the meeting, a letter signed by seven of the Thompsons' neighbors "offered no opinion" on the conditional use permit, but said they had no objections to the current activity.
P&Z Chairman Jim Bond began the board's questions by asking Stuart Thompson why he applied for a conditional use permit for activities which would seem to be allowed under the regulations. Mr. Thompson replied that he didn't think he was in violation of the regulations, but was complying with his December agreement with the County Commissioners. Further, he said none of the uses requiring a conditional use permit outlined in the regulations fit the White Pine activity occurring at the James Lane property.
Mr. Thompson told the Commission that he disagreed with Judge Kalokathis' ruling that the White Pine activities at the ranch were not "incidental" to the ag operation because of White Pine's economic potential. "This is a small ranch, but it is a viable ranch," said Mr. Thompson. "And as poor as the price of cows has been over the past few years, it's still making more money than my operations at White Pine. I hope that changes in the future."
Mr. Thompson added that he needed the use of his James Lane property to make White Pine work. "This nanny needs that nursery to keep that baby up on the hill alive," he told the Commission.
The Falers were represented by attorney Ed Wood, who said his clients' main concern was noise and traffic. Mr. Wood argued that the Thompsons' permit should be denied because they had not applied for a recognized conditional use. Secondly, the Thompsons failed to provide details about the nature of their White Pine-related activities at the James Lane property, as is required.
The P&Z office had requested traffic and other specifics concerning the White Pine- related activity at the Thompsons' James Lane property. According to the P&Z office, Mr. Thompson said he would provide the information, but had failed to do so before the meeting.
Mr. Thompson told the commission that the traffic to his ranch had decreased over the years, and of the total traffic on the road, only a "small percentage" is related to any White Pine activities.
However, members of the P&Z Commission were clearly angered that more specific information hadn't been provided. Suzy Michnevich of Boulder told Mr. Thompson that she supported White Pine, but wouldn't consider or approve a conditional use application that didn't provide specifics.
"You were asked to provide certain information," Peggy Bell told Mr. Thompson, "and none of that is here, none of it." Without more information, Ms. Bell told Mr. Thompson, his application was "vague and nebulous."
Ultimately, the P&Z Commission advised Mr. Thompson to return with more information and a more specific conditional use application. The issue was tabled indefinitely.
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