County, Ricketts battle to keep resort rezone

Bondurant citizens face both Aug. 8 in Jackson courtroom

UPDATE: As of Aug. 3, 2022 at 5:07 p.m., the oral arguments have been rescheduled from Aug. 8 to Aug. 25 at 1:30 p.m. 

SUBLETTE COUNTY – Sublette County and Jackson Fork Ranch are both prepared to argue against a small coalition of Bondurant citizens who challenge commissioners’ majority decision to approve rezoning ranch acreage for a high-end resort in rural Hoback Basin.

The civil challenge for judicial review of the Dec. 7, 2021, “agency decision” was filed May 16 in 9th District Court and assigned to Judge Melissa Owens in Teton County. She set aside two hours for oral arguments on Aug. 8 at 1:30 p.m. in the Jackson courtroom “for judicial economy,” her order says.

Attorney James Lubing filed the petition to review the Sublette County commissioners’ 3-2 decision to allow the rezoning on behalf of Bondurant citizens Dan Bailey, Delores Kominsky, Mary Krall, Richard Pearson, Steve Robertson, Dennis Seipp and Marti Seipp.

They and many others in the Hoback Basin opposed billionaire JFR owner Joe Ricketts’ two campaigns to rezone part of his traditionally agricultural acreage to build a high-end resort and multiple-bedroom “fellow cabins” on Upper Hoback Road.

‘Utter absence’

Before Sublette County commissioners cast their votes to approve rezoning, chair Joel Bousman had advised everyone at public meetings to refer to the Sublette County Comprehensive Plan’s 10 goals when voicing opposition or support.

However, those voting “aye” – commissioners Bousman, Tom Noble and Sam White – did not follow that guidance and refused to explain to the public or media how the project fit with the 10 goals, the suit says.

“There is a complete and utter absence of any factual findings required of (Board of Sublette County Commissioners) in its record to support the final decision,” the citizens argued, calling the majority decision “arbitrary and without support of substantial evidence.”

Those voting “nay” – commissioners Doug Vickrey and Dave Stephens – did refer to the 10 goals when they voted against it.

The complaint asks Judge Owens to review the commission’s “inconsistent” decision with the Sublette County Comp Plan and master plan under the Wyoming Administrative Procedures Act.

However, private attorneys for the county board and Jackson Fork Ranch responded that the majority vote is “a legislative act” and should be reviewed as complying with “the requirements of the commissioners’ procedures.”

The county filed 61 volumes in the Pinedale courthouse to establish its administrative record for making the decision after so many spoke to them against rezoning for Ricketts’ resort. Each volume holds scores of communications and documents.

The county’s attorneys Matt Kim-Miller and Paula Fleck of Holland & Hart responded June 30 to the citizens’ petition by arguing Bousman, Noble and White “complied with the Sublette Zoning Code when it legislated the new zoning” and their “aye” votes were “in general conformity with Sublette County’s Comprehensive Plan.”

Their brief states the citizens “have not alleged how they have standing” to file the petition in 9th District Court.

Ricketts’ attorneys Matthew Turner and John Graham responded June 30, saying the county’s zoning regulations “do not require the board to make findings when rezoning a piece of property.”

Oral arguments

On July 25, Judge Owens ordered the Aug. 8 oral arguments hearing to take place in Jackson, where the attorneys will appear in person. She asked each party’s attorney to “focus their arguments on the following key issues.”

First, each of the citizens, who are “adjacent landowners” to Jackson Fork Ranch, must address why they in particular have “standing” to bring the action, according to her order.

Also, “the parties take opposing views on the standard of review that shall be applied in this matter,” it says.

Petitioners argue the WAPA applies for the “arbitrary and capricious standard,” it says. But the county and Jackson Fork argue the decision was legislative and complies with requirements for their decision-making.

All parties agree on the Sublette Zoning Code’s 10 factors and their attorneys must “be prepared to present arguments regarding all references in the record where the commissioners considered these factors or the lack thereof,” the judge’s order says.

“Counsel for the parties may make any other relevant arguments they deems necessary,” it says.

To observe

Although oral arguments will be set in the Teton County courtroom, it is still a Sublette County-based case, according to 9th District Court Clerk Janet Montgomery, who said she would ensure the public could watch the hearing in the Pinedale courthouse. It will also be live-streamed on the Wyoming Supreme Court’s website.

Video News