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Court sends Mackay plans back to county

Justices demand better account of approval of Wilson project.
By Kevin Huelsmann, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
January 02, 2013

Wyoming Supreme Court justices ordered Teton County officials last week to once again review Jamie Mackay’s development proposal for a 2-acre parcel in downtown Wilson.

Justices said county commissioners didn’t fully explain their reasoning when they approved the project in March 2011. Without that explanation, the justices said the rest of the case wasn’t ready to be heard.

“While there may be information in the record which would support a finding that the proposed development improved scenic views and lessened adverse environmental impacts, deciding whether the record justifies making those findings in the first instance is the board’s task, and not that of the courts,” Justice Michael K. Davis wrote in a 20-page opinion.

Attorney Peter Moyer and a group of residents called the Wilson Advisory Committee challenged the project shortly after commissioners’ approved it, saying it violated zoning rules and ignored goals set out in a county land-use plan. In March, a district court judge upheld commissioners’ decision.

Commissioners approved three commercial buildings, five residential units, two accessory units and one affordable housing unit on the property.

The property straddles two zoning designations. Approximately 1.5 acres is zoned for single-family homes. The remaining portion, which abuts Highway 22, is zoned for more intense commercial development.

The three commercial buildings were approved for the part of the property zoned for denser projects, while the residential units were slated for the single-family portion of the land. Two accessory units were approved as part of a commercial building.

The county’s land-use regulations say property owners with dual-zoned land, such as Mackay’s parcel, should put more intense uses on the side of the property zoned for denser development. But county rules allow for an alternate arrangement if planners can show that doing so would “lessen environmental impacts and improve scenic vistas.”

County officials put the regulation in place and should be required to follow it and fully vet projects against it, the court said.

“As the board imposed this limitation on itself, it is not too much to require that the necessary finding be made in this particular circumstance,” the justices said, “so that the court can determine if the board acted arbitrarily and capriciously or whether it instead acted reasonably and followed its own rules.”

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