The Voice of the Community Since 1909, Serving Moorcroft and Pine Haven, Wyoming

County looks for input on zoning plans

Zoning for Crook County


Crook County residents have vigorously opposed rural zoning in the past but, with the influx of several subdivisions in recent years and no legal avenue to control developers, some appear to have changed their view.

Throughout January, hired consultant for planning and zoning, Jayna Watson, has been addressing ranchers and other county citizens who are and will be most impacted by the slow flood of new neighbors as well as this possible change in how officials may deal with pending issues in a series of public discussions.

These open conversations began with Watson describing just what the currently state-mandated comprehensive plan involves and the zoning that may provide legal enforcement of the plan, which the county does not have at this time.

Watson explained at the Moorcroft gathering of interested parties, "There's no timeline for the completion of this project, but really, what's at stake is trying to get a handle on how to deal with growth and development, especially in the rural areas and outside our incorporated towns in Crook County. With plenty of time to review and discuss and more importantly, talk to each other, this is an important conversation to have because it's going to make some changes take place in the coming years."

The questions of what a comprehensive plan and zoning is and whether Crook County actually needs these changes were first answered by Watson.

"A lot of places don't have zoning, land use evolved and neighbors worked together just fine, but sometimes, they need some additional rules and regulations," she said.

"At present, Crook County has no zoning, meaning that anything can happen on a parcel of land, so when you think of your interests and your property and you think, 'well I have property rights', your neighbor also has property rights; what they do could affect you and what you do could affect them. That's the way it is right now."

Watson recognized that Wyoming is a conservative state and this discussion regarding terms like zoning, growth management, etc can be a bit daunting, so, "We're trying to navigate this and figure out how exactly to implement it, if that's the desire of the county."

She began the discussion with a quick breakdown on the makeup of a comprehensive plan, saying, "The Wyoming legislature says that every county and city in the state of Wyoming must adopt a comprehensive plan. These are the big visions, the preferences."

This plan includes a general vision for the future development of the county with topics like acceptable land uses and locations of these uses, rural development without the normal utilities/sevices and roadways, trails and paths.

However, these are only preferences and, to implement these choices and make them enforceable, zoning must be established.

Zoning institutes two documents that, together, creates enforcable law, these include a map and an ordinance.

The map of the county describes land use districts of which the main body will have agricultural, residential, commercial and industrial; these can then be broken down further if considered too broad.

A zoning ordinance explains how land can be developed in each district including lists of permitted land uses, minimum lot sizes, standards for uses that generate possible pollution of noise, dust, odor and so on.

This will also show the rules governing the approval process, how to apply and any notices. This ordinance reflects the comprehensive plan.

Of the more than 20 guests, a few spoke on either side of the issue and several voiced no opinion, but asked pertinent questions.

As guests freely shared the features of this land they love, including low population, freedom to do as they choose with their property, nice neighbors, a safe community, wildlife, no light pollution, low taxation, no government intervention, the fact that people in this community care about each other and help each other out and more, Watson advised an aspect of the addition of zoning that many had not previously faced.

"Zoning has the ability to identify the correct locations for uses like RV parks, dirt bike tracks, mud bogging tracks, salvage yards, hotels, auto repair shops, etc.," she said.

"That's what we're doing tonight, trying to flush those issues out...sensible regulations are needed to make sure development does not create unreasonable impact to others, the conversion of ranch/ag land to some other land use needs careful evaluation for impacts."

As historically agricultural land is sold and developed without restriction, possible negative impacts on many aspects of Wyoming life often taken for granted include the quality of streams, rivers and reservoirs as well as ground water, air quality, open space and wildlife.

This currently has no protection and without intervention may be damaged or destroyed, she said, changing the face of Crook County forever.

Watson explained, "The Crook County Commission and land use as well as the planning and zoning commission feel that they're at cross-roads and they need to make some decisions about how to manage growth in these rural areas. Is it going to be zoning, is it going to be shoring up the subdivision regulations...?"

However, another part of accepting a zoned county is the cost: "Before the commission makes that investment, putting all that in motion, they want to make sure what you feel about it."

No decisions have been made at the time of this report. The county commissioners were on hand to listen to residents at these four meetings and they, along with planning and zoning, will "consider what the next moves are when it comes to planning and zoning in the county", according to Watson.