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SHERIDAN — Sheridan County Commissioners approved a lot size variance Tuesday that will allow a 40-acre parcel near Clearmont to be used for residential purposes even though it is zoned agricultural and would typically need to be 80 acres in size.
The County Planning and Zoning Commission recommended denial of the variance by a vote of 3-2 at its meeting Jan. 9.
John and Kathy Cattles requested the variance after purchasing the lot from Paul and Carol Auzqui, who split their 120-acre parcel that straddles Clear Creek southeast of town. They sold the Cattles a 40-acre parcel on the southeast corner of their lot, using the creek as a natural boundary.
After the Cattles acquired the property, they asked Sheridan County for an address. That is when it was discovered that the parcel did not meet zoning regulations that allow one residence per 80 acres on agricultural land, County Planner Mark Reid said.
Staff recommended approval of the variance with two conditions: that provisions regarding large acreage subdivisions be met prior to obtaining permits for new construction and that regulations regarding development in flood plains be followed.
Paul Auzqui spoke in support of the variance at the Planning Commission meeting and the meeting Tuesday with county commissioners.
He said that surveyors and realtors hired to assist in the sale of the land never mentioned it may be in violation of zoning regulations.
He also said several surrounding neighbors are in favor of the Cattles developing the land and that there has been no opposition expressed by anyone.
Attorney David Smith, representing the Cattles, also spoke at both meetings. He said he was baffled by the planning commission’s hesitation to declare that the creek that was used as a boundary in the land division process would qualify as a special condition or hardship to justify the variance.
Smith also said the Cattles requested a variance because it was the cheapest, most direct option that would allow them to develop the land they purchased. He said re-zoning the parcel would have been challenging because it is marked as agricultural in the county’s future land use plan.
“There’s probably lots of ways to skin this cat, but this is the easiest way to skin this cat,” Smith said.
Commissioner Tom Ringley said he would vote for the variance because he felt the Cattles got stuck in a “perfect storm” that created a bad situation for them. He was not worried about setting a precedent with the variance because variances are, by nature, treated as unique situations.
Commissioner Mike Nickel said he hopes this situation will help realtors be mindful of the recent zoning changes that established the 80-acre minimum so similar problems don’t arise in the future. He said he saw no negative impacts on Clearmont with the variance.
“Clearmont could use more friendly neighbors,” Nickel said.
Commission Chairman Terry Cram said he is generally opposed to variances because there is a reason zoning regulations are enacted, often to protect land from being chopped up and divided unnecessarily. He also said he prefers to trust the planning commission on these kinds of matters.
However, he said he voted for the variance for four reasons: Staff made a reasonable case that the creek was a special condition that would limit typical use; the land is located adjacent to an area designated as a potential growth area for Clearmont and is surrounded by land with residences; the Cattles had no opposition to development; and granting a variance would not impact large portions of agricultural land.
With the variance granted, the Cattles will have to plat the land as a large acreage subdivision before development. That plat must be approved by the County Commission, Cram said. Roads, fire and police access points and utilities must also be established.
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