From the pages of
The Sublette County Journal
Volume 5, Number 9 - 10/26/00
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

P&Z Approves Boulder Campground
Industrial development for oilfield also approved
by Rob Shaul

The second time was a charm for Albert and Sondra Ellis. Last Thursday, the Sublette County Planning & Zoning Commission recommended approval of the Ellis' application to rezone approximately 23 acres owned by the couple from agricultural land (A-1) to Recreational Services (RS-1). The Ellis' plan to construct a RV Park and tent campground at the location 3/4 of a mile south of Boulder on Highway 191.

The Ellis' own a 584-acre ranch near Boulder. Last summer, they submitted an application to the P&Z Commission to rezone another portion of their ranch to RS-1 for the campground. This first location was south of State Highway 353 and was met with organized and vocal opposition from numerous Boulder residents including several of the Ellis' neighbors.

After listening to over an hour of public comment against the Ellis' plans, last summer the P&Z Commission tabled the application, and asked the Ellis' to meet with their neighbors before proceeding.

The Ellis' did just that, and as a result, changed the proposed location of the campground from the location south of Highway 353 to the 23 acres bordering Highway 191. With the change of location, the opposition to the campground evaporated. The P&Z office sent out 39 letters to property owners in the Boulder area concerning the latest Ellis proposal and received just one letter in opposition. This came from Tyler Wilson, who wrote that he was opposed to all growth in the Boulder area. "Let's keep it Boulder, not Jackson or some big town," said Mr.Wilson.

Two neighbors, including Craig & Marilyn Jensen, wrote letters supporting the campground's new location. The Jensen's home is located across Highway 353 from the original location and they opposed the Ellis' campground last summer.

Phelps Swift Jr., whose family owns the Circle 9 ranch, one of the Ellis' neighbors, told the commission he didn't oppose a campground on the Ellis' property, but noted that re-zoning the property to Recreational Services would allow motels and taverns to be built on the property without county approval. "Is this an appropriate place for bars, motels, etc." Mr. Swift asked the P&Z Commission. He suggested making campgrounds a conditional use of land zoned A-1, and issuing the Ellis' a conditional use permit. "A conditional use could control it better," Mr. Swift argued.

P&Z Board member John Dahlke shared Mr. Swift's concerns. "I'd like to see this just be for the campground," he said. "Just for that use." Mr. Dahlke said he was also concerned that the 23 acres of hay meadow would have to be drained to make way for the campground. "The Rocky Mountain West is losing a million acres of agricultural land a year," he said. Mr. Dahlke said he was "split 50-50" on the issue.

Board member Suzy Michnevich told the Ellis' she would vote in favor of their re-zone application. "I think it's wonderful of you to change your plan after hearing the dissent of your neighbors," she told Albert and Sondra.

Responding to Mr. Swift's concerns, Eric Fairbanks of Boulder noted that the proposed location of the campground would be located adjacent to Highway 191, a "main artery" of Sublette County. "Isn't that where we want commercial development?" Mr. Fairbanks asked, noting that the current County Master Plan called for locating commercial development along the county's main roadways.

Board member Jay Anderson of Marbleton expressed misgivings. "If we do a re-zone, is that spot zoning?," he asked.

Albert Ellis agreed with concerns that the RS-1 zoning designation "opens up the possibility of pretty intensive use," however he told the P&Z Commission he currently had no intention of development beyond the campground.

P&Z Commission Chairman Jim Bond of Bondurant liked the Ellis' plan and complimented them on "their willingness to visit with their neighbors and coming up with another plan."

After Mr. Bond's comments, the P&Z Commission recommended approval of the Ellis' re-zoning application unanimously. The application will appear before the County Commissioners in November for the final decision.

Considering Mr. Swift's concerns, the P&Z Commission instructed County Planner Joanne Garnett to investigate changing the regulations to restrict the definition of what is allowed under RS-1 zoning and possibly create a new zoning district specifically for campgrounds.

Fairbanks Industrial Development

The P&Z Commission next heard a proposal by Eric Fairbanks of Boulder to rezone 168 acres of land currently zoned A-1 twenty-two miles south of Pinedale. Mr. Fairbanks' property is located on the east side of Highway 191 where it intersects with Highway 351 - the Piney cuttoff. He proposes to rezone it to create a commercial and industrial subdivision servicing the Johah and Pinedale Anticline natural gas fields. The property is surrounded by BLM land on three sides.

Mr. Fairbanks wants to rezone the bulk of his property , 132-acres, to Light Industrial (I-L, 74 acres) and Heavy Industrial (I-H, 58 acres). The remaining 28 acres would be rezoned general and highway commercial.

Mr. Fairbanks explained that the property rezoned to general and highway commercial would be located nearest to the highway, and would help to screen the industrial lots from travelers passing by. The industrial lots would further be hidden behind a draw on the property, making them lower than the highway. He plans extensive landscaping to further obscure the industrial lots from visibility.

Mr. Fairbanks has met with the BLM, Game & Fish, and County Fire Marshall John Blaha to inform them of his plans and solicit feedback. He's spoken to the Department of Transportation which plans a turn lane for Highway 351 in 2002 and says it could at the same time construct a slow-down lane for Mr. Fairbanks' subdivision. He's begun meeting with the Department of Environmental Quality concerning water issues.

County Planner Joanne Garnett told the P&Z Commission she sent out one letter to an adjacent landowner and had one person come into the office to express support.

At the meeting, Ms. Garnett read a letter in opposition to the re-zoning from Linda Baker of Boulder. Ms. Baker cautioned the P&Z Commission about the history of the "boom and bust" extractive economy of Wyoming's past. She noted that even the Pinedale Anticline Record of Decision says the field is "speculative in nature at this point."

Ms. Baker pointed to the several empty buildings in Big Piney and Marbleton as evidence of land speculation based on busted oilfield development in the 1980s. She urged the Board to wait to see if development pays out "before creating another ghost town."

"An industrial development would completely ruin the view" of the Wind River Mountains for travelers heading north on Highway 191 Ms. Baker continued. She concluded by saying that a "new town 22 miles south of Boulder" would strain county resources and went against the County Master Plan.

Although he did not submit a letter, Dave Vlcek also opposed the development, John Dahlke told the Board.

Responding to Ms. Baker's concerns, Mr. Fairbanks told the Board he believed the Jonah and Anticline fields will be producing natural gas for several decades. "Once you drill a gas well, you don't close it until it runs out of gas," said Mr. Fairbanks, adding that this could take as long as 40 years.

"The word 'industrial' and industrial zoning have become a snake in Sublette County and especially in northern Sublette County," Mr. Fairbanks continued. "The first tendency is to cut its head off, but snakes are people too...Don't choke it totally out, but keep it under control," he told the Board. "I don't want to create a monster any more than you guys want to see one."

Mr. Fairbanks added that he hopes his subdivision attracts manufacturing companies that aren't associated with the oil and gas industry. He believes the proposed subdivision, at the intersection of Highway 351 and Highway 191 is an "excellent location to manufacture and sell wares." Further, "It's needed," said Mr. Fairbanks. He told the Board he's been approached by several people in the oil and gas industry interested in the lots already.

Tyler Wilson told the Board he supported Mr. Fairbanks' development. He felt it would keep a lot of oilfield traffic from traveling through Pinedale to the Industrial Site west of town. "It's in an ideal location for oil and gas," he concluded.

Board member Suzy Michnevich spoke in favor of the subdivision. Currently, oil and gas service companies working at the Jonah Field lease property from the BLM for their operations, and the county receives no property taxes from this land. She said that Mr. Fairbanks' subdivision would at a minimum generate revenue for county government through property taxes.

Ms. Michnevich also liked the subdivision's location. "I would bet that in the future this will be the center of the field," she said.

Both Board members Peggy Bell and Jay Anderson spoke in favor of the subdivision. Ms. Bell noted that the BLM recently turned down the County's request to purchase property adjacent to the Industrial Site west of Pinedale to expand the site and that Mr. Fairbanks proposal was a good alternative.

Mr. Anderson said he liked the idea that Mr. Fairbanks' subdivision could keep large trucks servicing the oilfield off the roads and highways near Sublette County's towns. He felt this was a safety issue.

Board member John Dahlke spoke forcefully in opposition to the subdivision. First, he said it "flies in the face of the Comprehensive Plan," which encourages industrial development in or near town and close to public utilities. He described Mr. Fairbanks' proposal as "the very definition of spot zoning."

Second, Mr. Dahlke is concerned that the industrial activities could pollute Sand Springs, a water source on the property which runs all year. If this water is polluted, Mr. Dahlke said it would have a rippling effect on grazing and wildlife.

Mr. Dahlke disagreed with Mr. Fairbanks' comment that the industrial lots wouldn't be visible from the highway. He said he'd been to the location three times, and that these lots will be visible to anyone traveling north on Highway 191.

Next, Mr. Dahlke argued that the vacant industrial lots currently available in Sublette County should be developed before this subdivision is approved. Of the 51 lots in the Industrial Site west of Pinedale, Mr. Dahlke said just 19 are developed. In Big Piney/Marbleton, just 8 of 31 industrial lots are developed, he said.

"Why would the oil and gas companies abandon BLM leases to relocate, and buy new lots?," asked Mr. Dahlke.

Finally, Mr. Dahlke shared Ms. Baker's concern about Mr. Fairbanks' development being abandoned if the gas field goes bust. He pointed to towns like Lysite and Sinclair which he called "Rusting hulks that are the sign posts of the extractive industries in Wyoming." He concluded, "Sublette County doesn't need a future Jeffrey City. Approval of this would be staggeringly short sighted."

Board member Jay Anderson said available industrial property closer to the gas fields would be better for business.

Mr. Dahlke countered that the property the oil and gas service companies are leasing from the BLM will eventually be reclaimed when the field plays out, but that there's nothing to guarantee Mr. Fairbanks' lots will ever be reclaimed. "This will never be reclaimed," he said, and the remnants would "serve as a signpost for Pinedale. "There will be a time when ranching and wildlife will far outlast the remnants of the extractive industries," he cautioned.

However, the other Board members were not convinced, and Mr. Fairbanks' rezoning application was recommended for approval by a 4-1 vote.

Other News ...

The P&Z Commission recommended approval of a conditional use permit by George Gardner to sell used vehicles at Stanley's Junction in Pinedale. The Board made the recommendation over the objections of six nearby landowners, Viktor and Diane Grabner, Jeff & Sherry Thierry, and Robert and Jacqueline Christner, who in a letter asked that a development plan for the Daniel Junction be developed before Mr. Gardner's request was approved.

The Board approved a 5-year conditional permit renewal for a gravel pit owned by Nerd Energy. The pit serves roads in the Jonah and Pinedale Anticline natural gas fields.

Finally, Planner Joanne Garnett reported that she'd received a phone call from a real estate agent in Jackon who had some people wanting to buy some property on which they could operate some type of hang gliding business. The real eastate agent said her clients would need a minimum of 40 acres of property and wondered how the zoning for this type of operation would work in Sublette County. Ms. Garnett said hang gliding was not explicitly covered in the planning and zoning regulations but that it would probably have to be located on property zoned Recreational Services or RS-1. <

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Publisher/Editor: Rob Shaul