Commissioners explain votes to approve JFR rezoning

PINEDALE – All three yes votes on the Sublette County Board of Commissioners that approved the resort rezoning of Jackson Fork Ranch explained their votes at the end of its Dec. 21 meeting inside the county commissioners’ meeting room. And they did so with tense words brimming with something close to frustration and anger.

Tami Crosson asked the commissioners why they voted the way they did during the public comment portion at the end of the commissioners’ meeting.

Commissioner Sam White fielded the question first. He said there was a big reason he didn’t answer the question before. He said when the Roundup asked him for a reason he was inclined not to answer.

“Sounds like they’ve already made up their mind,” White told the room.

He said his biggest reason was private property rights – for everybody. When asked about the rights of neighbors around the Jackson Fork Ranch, White asked what property rights of theirs were being infringed upon by the decision. Crosson responded that the issue comes when the property around it was bought when the Jackson Fork Ranch’s property was zoned as agriculture.

Commissioner Tom Noble then offered his rationale. He said when zoning was created there were blocks of all types laid out and recreational services were a block that was applied for, not one established. So what happened was how the process of zoning works.

“So, it’s anybody’s right to apply for a recreational service,” Noble said.

He also cited private property rights and that the 10 items referred to by zoning were created as guidelines and not a hard-line determination one way or another.

Chair Joel Bousman, who offered a brief explanation at the Dec. 7 commissioners’ meeting when the vote to rezone 56 acres went through, offered some more insight into his decision to approve the vote. He said the purpose of planning and zoning plans were to offer growth in the county in a way that benefited the county and didn’t negatively impact property rights while maintaining public health and safety.

Bousman said, for example, a neighbor builds a house next to his and installs a septic tank that pollutes Bousman’s well. That was what planning and zoning rules were designed to prevent.

He said it’s also always been the intent of the commission to not prevent an increase in population to the county. That happens by working with planning and zoning and possibly making changes to benefit the county, he said. Bousman said property rights were also a big point of his decision.

The commission chair went further, explaining the feeling that branched beyond the vote itself.

“It was basically a mob mentality,” he said. “It was a very well-organized effort to intimidate the board of commissioners to make their decision the way they wanted it made.”

He said he also didn’t want to set parameters that allowed the county to operate with a mentality where only current residents and multi-generational residents get benefits of living in Sublette County.

“If the county wants to go down the road of limiting and having no more population growth then we need a major change in regulations that says no more people are allowed in this county to live because we all have what we want and we don’t want anyone else here,” Bousman said. “I don’t see that happening and that was the feeling that I left with after that meeting.”

He said he’s also given more thought to his vote and the significance of the meeting in the two weeks between commissioners meetings. Bousman said among the feedback he received was a threat from community members to have a Blackhawk helicopter circle his home.

Noble then said he had community members speak in favor of the rezoning to him before and after the vote. He said, by the comments he received, they were split down the middle.

“It was a hard decision for me. I’m fourth generation. I’d just as soon put gates at both ends,” Noble said. “That’s not how it works. We all know that.”

Commissioner Doug Vickrey, who voted against the rezoning of Jackson Fork Ranch, then spoke up to reiterate his no vote. He admitted change was inevitable but he wanted to keep it small and slow. He then said he knew someone who sold over $1 million in land to Ricketts during the rezoning process.

“We have a right to listen to the people who put us in office,” Vickrey said. He then said it was a countywide effort to resist the rezoning.

Vickrey then said he knew two more large ventures coming from big money “down the road” that will come before the commission. He said he wants to look at “alternatives” for the community to slow that progress so when his grandchildren are here they can still see some of the mountains and not high-rise buildings.