P&Z board denies Jackson Fork Ranch resort zoning change

SUBLETTE COUNTY – The crowd was expected and did not disappoint as audience of about 80 county residents – 30 online and 50 or so seated – listened and spoke their minds Thursday about Joe Ricketts’ second application to change zoning for a parcel of his Jackson Fork Ranch, all zoned agricultural, in the Pinedale Library’s Lovatt Room.

As he did a year ago, Ricketts’ agent Morgan Fischer addressed the Sublette County Planning & Zoning Board about creating an upscale resort off Upper Hoback Road near Bondurant.

That first request, to rezone about 44 agricultural acres to recreational services for a 45-room lodge and employee housing, was met with reluctance from the board, with a 4-1 vote to deny recommending the change to Sublette County commissioners. Commissioners also denied the 2020 zoning change application at their ensuing regular meeting.

This time up, Fischer immediately offered eight additional “conditions” if the board voted to recommend the current zoning change request, now at 56 acres with a 15-to-20-room lodge and two guest cabins in the first phase, with six more guest cabins added in a second phase.

Board chair Blake Greenhalgh set up the meeting so anyone wanting to speak for or against could have three minutes and board members could ask questions of Fischer. Fischer said he was prepared to answer any comments and questions, with many details not in the application itself.

People from Bondurant, Hoback Basin and beyond stood to speak and several raised their hands online.

Some supported the recreational plan as bringing jobs and revenues to Sublette County, while many more said its zoning should remain agricultural as it has for decades. A letter-writing campaign resulted in several dozen letters that Fischer dismissed as form letters; several of the writers reminded him that each letter also related personal feelings about keeping Jackson Fork Ranch as it is.

As Fischer spoke of Ricketts’ private property rights, he was reminded that as agricultural land, the owner has a number of property rights including building a guest ranch.

Greenhalgh did not allow anyone to “badmouth” the proposal or owner Ricketts, although several made clear they are tired of getting junk mail addressed to “Little Jackson Hole” instead of Bondurant. Most spoke of protecting wildlife habitat and migration, pointed out unknowns of a proposed resort’s effects on air and water quality, construction traffic on the county’s dirt road and stated they did not want Bondurant to become an overflow outlet for Jackson Hole.

Board members expressed their thoughts before a vote to recommend or deny the rezoning request.

Around 10:30 p.m., Greenhalgh moved the meeting toward its finale by asking for a motion. Board member Chris Lacinak tendered the motion to deny the rezoning application; Pat Burroughs seconded it. Lacinak, Burroughs and board member Maike Tan voted to deny it; Greenhalgh and a reluctant Ken Marincik voted to recommend.

The Jackson Fork Ranch rezoning application next comes up Tuesday, Dec. 7, before Sublette County commissioners – two of whom attended the P&Z board meeting, Doug Vickrey and Dave Stephens. Commissioners’ approval or denial to rezone the ranch parcel will make or break the proposed resort project.