P&Z board rejects delayed Visionary tower request, Sanctuary CUP
SUBLETTE COUNTY – With an overflowing crowd of citizens shoehorned into the Sublette County Planning & Zoning Commission’s meeting Thursday night, tension seemed to show from the start.
P&Z commission chair Blake Greenhalgh called the Sept. 15 meeting to order with the action to approve the last meeting’s minutes. Member Maike Tan called the minutes provided by county planner Dennis Fornstrom and assistant Tess Soil into question, saying they left out conversations about zoning regulations that the commission has spent months on changing.
“I didn’t feel the minutes reflected what was on the table,” board member Pat Burroughs added. Citizen Dan Bailey said he felt the minutes should have included Fornstrom’s “confrontational” attitude toward him during that meeting.
“Dennis felt that I was delaying his process and that was not in the minutes,” Bailey said.
Also, the commission’s work that night to define “commercial” was left out, he added.
When other commission members – Ken Marincic and Chris Lacinak – declined to approve the minutes, Greenhalgh asked for those minutes to “be corrected to approve at the next meeting.” The commission’s first item, amendments to the Sublette County Zoning and Development Regulations, was also put off until the Oct. 20 meeting.
Visionary LLC had two tower permit requests for the commission, Fornstrom said.
“There are four broadband towers installed we’re now looking for a permit to go with,” he said, plus another 30-foot tower Visionary installed in Barger and wants to extend another 20 feet.
Visionary owner Greg Tomlinson said four broadband towers were installed around the county in November 2020 to meet the state and federal deadlines of Dec. 31, 2020, to be operational.
The four towers were built without proper notice or permits due to the short turnaround “time constraints,” Tomlinson said.
The person responsible for that is no longer with Visionary and Tomlinson decided to take charge and take care of the absent permits. Tomlinson said he contacted Fornstrom in April about getting the towers properly permitted and apologized to the commission.
“There’s no excuse, I’m coming hat in hand,” Tomlinson said. “I want to be a good neighbor with everybody involved.”
Commission members asked questions about the broadband towers, which are located on private property. Tomlinson said he and Fornstrom had talked about the towers in 2021.
“The state told us where to build, where they identified underserved (customers),” he said of not coming before the county P&Z board. “… It was not to be malicious; we had full intentions of coming and asking for permits.”
“Why wasn’t this done right?” Tan asked.
Burroughs said she asked Fornstrom about the broadband towers’ permits in April, specifically one by the Bondurant Elementary School “and I was told nothing.”
She asked Fornstrom if there are fines for installing the towers without permission.
“They would pay twice the application fee,” he said. In April he “was unaware that tower was built in Bondurant.”
Lacinak said Visionary’s request to permit the four existing towers so long after their installation “sounds disrespectful.” He asked if they could be torn down, which would be a “disservice to the community.”
“I really don’t like the way this went down,” he said.
Citizens had questions bout the towers. One criticized Visionary’s “excuse of COVID” and that adjacent neighbors should be notified of private land installations. The definition of “adjacent” is one element being reworked and the commission’s working draft is not yet available to the public. Fornstrom said Visionary contracted directly with the landowners.
Visionary’s fee would have been $75 per tower, doubled would be $600, Burroughs said.
Marincic moved to approve the four tower permits with $150 fees each. He and Greenhalgh approve the recommendation; Tan, Burroughs and Lacinak voted nay.
For the motion to heighten the separate Barger tower, Lacinak said he wants to see “more quantitative data with an application, moving forward. He asked how many more customers requested Visionary’s service that would be helped by extending the tower to 50 feet.
The members voted the same, 3-2 against recommending final approval to Sublette County commissioners.
County commissioners will receive the P&Z commission’s majority recommendation to deny and a P&Z staff report before casting their votes at their upcoming Oct. 4 meeting.
Most of the 60-plus people sitting through the very crowded meeting attended to ask questions and make comments about Jason Moyes’ request for a conditional-use permit to build a “sanctuary lodge” for traumatized girls and women on a 614-acre property at the Hoback Rim.
Mike Jackson of Rio Verde Engineering and Moyes explained a desire to keep all of the land zoned as agriculture and Moyes’ family made impassioned appeals for the proposed Sanctuary Lodge as a “public facility.”
Numerous questions and comments about wildlife – pronghorn and mule deer migration and critical habitat – came up as did water availability, security, emergency services, employees, traffic, density, structures and views.
Moyes said, “These are our concerns as well. We want this (trauma treatment center) here for those reasons.”
However, defining the term “public facility” was difficult for board members to see how the sanctuary lodge fit into the conditional use permit request for ag-zoned land. That and the term “commercial” are others in the process of being defined in upcoming regulations. Although some guidance is defined in the Sublette County Comprehensive Plan, the path forward did not seem clear to the P&Z board.
As the meeting passed 11 p.m., Greenhalgh began to slow the pace – “I haven’t used the timer on anyone tonight.”
Burroughs pointed out the board needed to consider only “site and location” for Moyes’ CUP request. Greenhalgh said he didn’t feel this CUP application was the “appropriate way it should have been brought forward.”
All five voted “nay” on the site and location, denying the CUP recommendation as it stood.