Lawsuit against Moyes’ Sanctuary Lodge is underway
HOBACK BASIN – The second of two civil lawsuits – this one filed in November – against Sublette County commissioners for their majority approvals of massive development projects on historic ranch land in and around Bondurant – picked up steam with the judge setting a briefing schedule and court hearing.
The landowners’ lawsuit, seeking to overturn Sublette commissioners’ 3-2 approval last year of Jason and Melinda Moyes’ “Sanctuary Lodge” as a “public facility,” was filed Nov. 3, 2022, in 9th District Court by their attorney Dale Aronson. Judge Marv Tyler assigned the case to 3rd District Court Judge Richard L. Lavery in Sweetwater County.
The Moyes want to build their envisioned high-end women’s and couples’ residential trauma-treatment center on the Hoback Rim along Highway 191.
On Jan. 17, Judge Lavery responded to newly elected Sublette County Attorney Clayton Melinkovich’s Jan. 5 motion to schedule the parties’ legal briefings and notice that he filed the county’s complete record, records show.
Judge Lavery ordered that the petitioning landowners file their legal brief within 45 days of Melinkovich’s Jan. 5 notice. Then the county and Jason and Melinda Moyes each have 45 days to file their responses; the landowners then have 15 more days to reply.
Judge Lavery set a one-hour court hearing for May 30, at 1:30 p.m.
The petitioners are eight families and a conservation group – Fran and Ronald Chilcote, Lucy and William Conley, Glenda Harmon and Daniel Harrison, Carolyn and Jim Hinckley, Tara and Mike Miller, Jean and Tucker Smith, Bettina and Rollin Sparrowe, Sublette Conservation Associates and Kathleen, Alan and Tracy Tominc.
“The petitioners own Sublette County realty and excepting one, have property immediately adjacent to the (Moyes’) property in this manner,” their complaint says. “(They) are aggrieved and adversely affected in fact by that action of the Sublette County Commission.”
At the county commissioners’ Oct. 4, 2022, meeting, it says, “… much discussion centered on whether the project was truly a ‘public facility,’ an otherwise authorized conditional use in the county Agriculture A-1 zoning district.”
The families want to overturn the county commissioners’ 2022 “administrative action.”
Their complaint refers to comments made at the Oct. 4, 2022, meeting, one by Sublette County Planning & Zoning Commission Chair Chris Lacinak, that “a weakened zoning code would materially injure the county citizens.”
Others noted the Rim’s often-harsh winter weather, public safety and traffic going on and off Highway 191, known Sublette mule deer and pronghorn migration routes and crucial wildlife habitat, fire protection and available water.
“Petitioner Tracy Tominc, an owner of adjacent land to the (Moyes) property, publicly claimed that he had not received written notice of the public hearing on Oct. 4,” it says. “He also claims that access to a chapel construction on the property has been done over his real estate.
The Moyes purchased hundreds of acres on the Hoback Rim, a geological division between Daniel and Bondurant, and earlier bought The Rim Station.
Earlier, the Moyes also received commissioners’ majority approval to rezone 299 acres of ranch land at Highway 191, 7 miles north of Daniel, as Rural Residential-5, which would allow up to 50 home lots across from Forty Rod subdivisions.
The three commissioners were Sam White, now chair, Tom Noble, and Joel Bousman, retired. The two voting against approval are Doug Vickrey and Dave Stephens. Newly elected commissioner Mack Bradley was sworn in in early January.
The Moyes are also on the Pinedale Planning & Zoning Board’s Feb. 6 meeting agenda to propose developing their Bloomfield residential property, within town limits.
Bondurant citizens lost the first civil petition filed – asking a judge to remand the majority-approved resort rezoning in Bondurant at Jackson Fork Ranch owned by billionaire Joe Ricketts. Judge Tyler assigned that case to a Teton County judge who passed it on until it came before District Court Judge Joshua Eames.
Judge Eames upheld the commissioners’ approval for Ricketts to build a resort in the newly designated recreational services district, near the end of Upper Hoback Road in Bondurant.
Ricketts has purchased most – but not all – of the private land from Highway 191 along that dirt road.
The citizen-petitioners also own private parcels; the Forest Service’s Bridger-Teton National Forest. Judge Eames ruled that the citizens did not sufficiently demonstrate the proposed resort’s impacts or their proximity to Ricketts’ Jackson Fork Ranch.
Most recently, Ricketts’ agent Morgan Fischer staged a full-fledged campaign to convince the county P&Z commission that the entire Jackson Fork Ranch, except for the resort acreage, should become one guest ranch. He argued to link the separate Dead Shot Ranch to Jackson Fork Ranch, only contiguous by the public dirt road.
Those members firmly declined to support the amended guest ranch conditional-use permit. As the county commissioners’ final meetings of 2022 approached and even his previously supportive commissioners questioning him, Fischer pulled the guest ranch application.
On Sept. 15, 2022, the P&Z commission voted, 4-1, advising county commissioners to not approve the Moyes’ 32,000-square-foot “Sanctuary Lodge” with a greenhouse, chapel, equestrian use, nature walks and ropes courses. The six-hour-long public meeting brought scores of protesters and supporters in person and via Zoom.
At the next county commissioners’ Oct. 4 meeting, Jason Moyes urged them to ignore the board’s vote. He reminded the commissioners that county planner Dennis Fornstrom and Melinkovich found that Sanctuary Lodge “is an acceptable use as a public facility.”
“The planning and zoning board did not handle this properly,” he said. “The planning administrator (Fornstrom) is the proper authority.”
Sanctuary Lodge would house up to 32 young clients (ages 12 to 28) for 90 days of inpatient treatment; six couples for three- to five-day stays with 35 employees in daytime hours and three to six employees overnight. Staff would sleep and shower offsite, the application says.
An estimated total of 63 to 70 trips daily would use Highway 191, an important busy public and commercial two-lane highway going from Daniel over the Hoback Rim to Bondurant, Hoback Junction and on to Jackson Hole or Star Valley.
Neighbors and wildlife supporters argued the property is used by migrating elk, mule deer and particularly pronghorn.
Although Gov. Mark Gordon issued an executive order cautioning private-property developers to consider wildlife in their planning, Sublette County commissioners and Moyes have said that wildlife migrations and habitat are not their concern.
The executive order to protect big-game migration routes, in particular the Path of the Pronghorn and the Red Desert to Hoback mule deer corridor, is not yet developed to guide private property development.
**Correction: Jackson Fork Ranch agent Morgan Fischer did not specifically say the wildlife issues of migration and habitat were not relevant to development plans.