County planning votes against recommendation for Ranchester area rezone

SHERIDAN — A proposed rezone of scattered acreages of urban residential land surrounding Ranchester did not receive approval at the Sheridan County Planning and Zoning Commission meeting Thursday night. Although the rezone from urban residential to agricultural was initiated by the commission, all five members voted against it after hearing nine affected landowners speak out against it.

Two landowners spoke in favor of the rezone.

The rezone would amend the official zoning map from urban residential to agricultural for five parcels of land within 10 miles of Ranchester. The rezone was proposed as part of Sheridan County’s Comprehensive Plan to prevent too much development in areas considered prime agricultural land.

After wrestling with the pros and cons of rezoning, planning commission members agreed that private property rights take precedence. They will not recommend approval of the rezone to the Sheridan County Board of County Commissioners, who will consider the matter at its next meeting April 16.

Cynthia Hoover spoke on behalf of her father, Larry Hoover, who owns 55 acres proposed for the rezone. She said she was most concerned with the loss of rights of the private property owner.

“You buy property zoned in a certain manner and some commission should not be able to come in and rezone that,” Hoover said.

She said Larry Hoover was just beginning the subdivision process of his land to give to grandchildren when he received a letter saying all subdividing would be frozen pending the rezone. He had planned four to five lots of land to be given to grandchildren.

Hoover said the property value of her father’s land would drop from about $15,000-$18,000 per acre to $2,500 per acre if rezoned to agricultural.

She said she feels positive and reassured following the planning commission’s vote against the rezone.

Brooke Barney, an attorney in Sheridan, spoke for her uncle and father who own Barney Bros. Land and Livestock near Ranchester. Four acres of their land is proposed for the rezone, but she said the acres are surrounded by land that would not be rezoned. The Barney brothers have plans to sell those four acres but worried they wouldn’t be able to if they were rezoned.

“I understand the intent to try to prevent development,” Barney said. “In this instance, I believe the private interests of property owners far outweigh the interests of the public.”

Kim Smith, who lives in one of the proposed rezones, said she is in support of the rezone for monetary reasons. She has paid urban residential taxes on land she uses for agricultural purposes for 25 years and would love for it to be rezoned to lessen the tax burden, she said.
Rick Smith, who lives in an affected area, said he is also in favor of the rezone because he simply doesn’t want more development in prime agricultural land.

Commission Chairman Steven Pearce said he has always supported the county’s Comprehensive Plan but worried about taking away land that people bought as urban residential.

Commissioner Mike Mellgren suggested it may be better to work with individual landowners to determine who would want a rezone and who wouldn’t.

Mark Reid, county planner, said it is always an option for residents to do a voluntary rezone. He also said the Comprehensive Plan does have an area specified for proposed community growth that is nearer to Ranchester than the proposed rezone areas.

“The real crux is that this wasn’t initiated by landowners,” commission member Audrey Brown said.

She said she thought the idea would originally be welcomed and embraced by Ranchester residents and was surprised to hear so many speak against it. A couple other board members agreed, saying they originally supported the rezone but were now reconsidering.

The proposed rezone will go before the Board of County Commissioners at its meeting April 16.

About

Hannah Wiest is the government and outdoors reporter for The Sheridan Press. She has lived in Colorado and Montana but loves her sunny home state of Wyoming best. She joined The Press staff in February 2013.

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