SUBLETTE COUNTY – After scores of people commented to oppose a resort rezoning request near Bondurant late last year, seven citizens went to 9th District Court to challenge Sublette County commissioners’ 3-2 majority approval in the mostly ag and residential Hoback Basin.
On Jan. 6, they filed a civil petition seeking judicial review of the three commissioners’ Dec. 7 approval of the Jackson Fork Ranch’s request, saying they are adversely affected by “the final agency’s action” to give “erroneous approval” and adopt Resolution No. 21-10043B to allow resort rezoning on 56 ag acres.
They name the Sublette County Board of Commissioners and Jackson Fork Ranch LLC as respondents. The seven petitioners are Daniel Bailey, Dolores Kominsky, Mary Krall, Richard Pearson, Steve Robertson, Dennis Seipp and Marti Siepp, all home and property owners in the Hoback Basin.
They ask 9th District Judge Marv Tyler to consider if commissioners erred in creating the “final order” – the resolution of approval – and to “vacate the final order.”
The Hoback Basin, its canyon and Bondurant create a bottleneck on the county’s north border that checks an ever-expanding pressure from an overdeveloped Jackson Hole just 30-plus miles away.
The November 2021 resort rezoning application for 56 acres of owner Joe Ricketts’ ranch on Upper Hoback Road was submitted by agent Morgan Fischer, who presented one in 2020 that was denied. This resort version plans 15 to 20 guest rooms and two large guest cabins, with six more in the second phase.
It is a scaled-down version of the first resort rezoning application Fischer submitted that the planning and zoning and commissioner boards rejected in 2020. Ricketts’ ranch is zoned as agricultural, which allows a “guest ranch” operation.
However, Ricketts himself told commissioners last month that he wants to leave his grandchildren a viable legacy with the proposed resort.
After the county’s public hearing Dec. 7 at the Pinedale Library, commission chair Joel Bousman told attendees to keep their comments relevant to 10 countywide policies and zoning regulations. Bousman and commissioners Sam White and Tom Noble later approved Ricketts’ rezoning request, with commissioners Doug Vickrey and Dave Stephens voting nay.
Bousman made a brief explanation, lauding Ricketts’ desire to teach future guests about ranching. White and Noble did not address the crowd about their aye votes.
Vickrey explained his perspectives to deny; Stephens said he voted against it because the people who elected him did not support it.
Citizens were stunned after commissioners adjourned the meeting without referring to the same policies and regulations Bousman had referenced. Numerous people spoke to the Sublette Examiner after the meeting; their questions and comments were condensed and forwarded to Bousman, White and Noble, who never replied.
“This petition seeks review of the (commissioners’) final order approving Jackson Fork Lodge, LLC, application ‘for a change in zoning district and boundary, pursuant to … Sublette County Zoning and Development regulations,’” it says. “… Petitioners seek review of the final order based on the final order’s erroneous approval of respondent Jackson Fork Ranch, LLC., application without making any findings required for such approval…”
The rezoning application’s approval is “inconsistent with” the county’s comprehensive plan, which puts a strong emphasis on agriculture, and Sublette County Master Plan, the petition says. It is is also “inconsistent” with the “recommendations and findings of the Sublette County Planning Commission, the previous decisions of the (commissioners in 2020), and previous representations and agreements of Jackson Fork Ranch, LLC’s principal in a Dec. 30, 1998 communication to the (commissioners).”
Then and now
The petition for judicial review includes “communication” from seller Hans Graf and new owner Ricketts seeking his property’s return to agricultural zoning.
In 1998, Ricketts purchased 478 acres from Graf and 800 acres of the original McNeel Ranch, marketed by Firebrand Ranch with zoning approval to develop six tracts to form Jackson Fork Ranch, he said.
Ricketts assured of “(his) desire to leave both properties undeveloped to remain as agricultural/ranch property.” Further, he was “hoping to place the majority of the 1,200-plus acres in a conservation easement.”
He continued, “I have reviewed Resolution No. 93-405S with reference to preserving the Hoback Basin Community and find that Mr. Graf’s sale of his property to me under the circumstances which were required, has greatly contributed to insuring the goals and objectives set forth in that resolution and the Sublette County Zoning Masterplan. This is true because it is my intent to leave the property which I have purchased primarily undeveloped and I am abandoning the plan expressed in Firebrand Ranch’s sale brochure of splitting the property into six different tracts for sale and development.”
It wasn’t until 2020 that Ricketts applied for recreational district zoning to build a resort, which was denied, the petition says. On Dec. 7, 2021 commissioners “reversed course and voted 3-2 to approve the application … without making any findings concerning (Ricketts’) compliance with the requirements and goals of the Sublette County Comprehensive Plan or its acceptability under Chapter VIII, Section 2 of the Sublette County Zoning and Development Regulations,” it says.
An unsuccessful applicant must wait one year before applying again to county planning and zoning for a zoning change.
The Sublette County Planning & Zoning Board reviewed the second resort rezoning application on Nov. 17, allowing public comments as before and voted, 3-2, against its approval. Three board members opposing – Maike Tan, Pat Burroughs and Chris Lacinak – cited specific county policies and zoning regulations they did not feel were met. Board member Ken Marincik voted to approve, saying he thought they were met; chair Blake Greenhalgh voted to approve without comment.
Their recommendations – and the public’s – then went to county commissioners on Dec. 7 for final approval at the Pinedale Library’s Lovatt Room to accommodate the large crowd. Although some there likely supported the rezoning proposal, they did not speak at all in public.