County denies permit for BH community center

SHERIDAN — The Board of County Commissioners denied a conditional use permit for a proposed community center and tennis facility to be located four miles north of Big Horn near the “Y” intersection of Highways 87 and 335 at its regular meeting Tuesday.

The decision followed nearly two hours of public comment and deliberation by commissioners. The final vote was two for and three against.

Nearly 50 people filled the boardroom to standing room only. During the public hearing, eight spoke for and 13 spoke against the center.

“This is a very, very difficult decision,” Commissioner Mike Nickel said following the hearing. At that point, he was unsure how he would vote.

Commissioners Bob Rolston and Terry Cram voiced support for the community center during deliberation, and Commissioners Steve Maier and Tom Ringley said they supported the idea of a community center but not in the proposed location, which is currently zoned rural residential and lies within 1,000 feet of at least 16 residences, according to a staff report by County Planner Mark Reid.

The Sheridan County School District 1 Recreation District purchased the 2.77-acre property for approximately $300,000 from the Old Apostolic Lutheran Church. Discussions about the purchase were in process when, on Aug. 9, 2012, the building owned by the church and rented by SCSD 1 as a temporary bus barn and bus stop location burned.

SCSD 1 carried insurance on the building, and the insurance company offered to provide $950,000 to rebuild a structure of similar size.

The recreation district partnered with the Sheridan Tennis Association, which wanted to build an indoor racket facility for tennis and pickleball.

A conditional use permit was required to build the center because the land was zoned rural residential. The proposed center consisted of a single-story, 7,000-square-foot community center, a 45-foot high, 21,250-square-foot racket facility and a 44-space parking area.

The Sheridan County Planning and Zoning Commission recommended denial of the proposed center. County staff recommended approval of the center with nine conditions that addressed water and sewer issues, hours of operation, lighting, signage and exterior design guidelines.

Arguments for the center emphasized the need for activity space in Big Horn, the good deal the recreation district received on the land and the fact that the building cost would be covered by the insurance money. Several stated that it may not be the ideal location but that no other locations closer to Big Horn were available for such a good price. The insurance money would only pay for a building at the location of the fire.

“That building burning down is the worst thing and the best thing that ever happened,” said Jeremy Smith, business manager for SCSD 1.

Smith asked the commissioners to consider that the “Y” area is designated as a public/semi-public area and a commercial center in the county’s future land use plan. Supporters stated the center would be consistent with how the area has been used historically as a church and bus barn.

Lorna Brooks, with the tennis association, said the racket facility height could be decreased from 45 feet to 36 feet. Commissioner Cram made a motion to include the height restriction as a condition of the permit.

Arguments against the center included that its size and the activity associated with it didn’t fit the defining character of the rural residential zoning. Concern was expressed about traffic increases and the safety of children riding bikes along the highway to access the center. Many stated they didn’t think the recreation district had the funding to maintain the center, but Commissioner Maier reminded them that finances weren’t a deciding factor, just zoning considerations.

“For them, it was the ideal spot. They got the land and the opportunity to build a building very cheaply there,” Cram said about his support of the center. “We got the height reduced by 10 feet, and I just don’t think it was going to be as big of an eyesore as everyone tried to make it sound out to be.”

Maier was concerned that no nearby residents expressed support for the center. He also noted that even though the area is listed as a commercial center on the future land use map, it was intended to be a limited commercial center and that the rural residential zoning would remain.

Nickel said he was strictly on the fence through the whole process but a few items pushed him toward voting against the center. He said the public/semi-public preference on the future land use map was marked when the location was a church and reflected that usage, not necessarily a desire for the area to be a broad-spectrum public place. He was also disappointed with the lack of quality mitigation between the recreation district and nearby landowners.

“The process is just as important as the product,” Nickel said. “It didn’t appear any of the other residents supported this. Taking everything into consideration, that’s what kind of tipped me to one side, but I wish the best for the tennis facility and a rec facility that will work out for everybody.”

Attempts to reach recreation district chairman Zack Cummins for information on the district’s next steps were not returned by press time this morning.

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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