Officials define ‘public facility’ by Moyes’ approval

Cali O'Hare photo Developer Jason Moyes and county Planning & Zoning director Dennis Fornstrom address the Sublette County Board of Commissioners about Moyes' proposed trauma-recovery center, The Sanctuary Lodge. More than 200 people were in attendance.

SUBLETTE COUNTY – County planning administrator Dennis Fornstrom and developer Jason Moyes presented a stolid and united front Tuesday to face down a previous unanimous vote against recommending Moyes’ proposed “Sanctuary Lodge” destination retreat as a “public facility” deserving of a conditional use permit.

The previous vote, 5-0, came from the five Sublette County Planning & Zoning Board members who met Sept. 15 at 6 p.m. and heard comments until 11:30 p.m. for and against Moyes’ proposal to build the high-cost lodge as a “hospital” or clinic, a potential conditional use of his property’s agriculture zoning.

The board members – unusually – all agreed that the women’s therapy treatment center, on 611 acres at the Hoback Rim, was a good cause but did not fit into their definition of a “quasi-government” facility that serves the public.

Sublette County Deputy Attorney Clayton Melinkovich and Fornstrom had told the board previously that the retreat did indeed fit in as a public facility – as a hospital – on ag-zoned land. Melinkovich told the board that commissioners would make the final definition with their Oct. 4 votes.

Public facility

Fornstrom said his staff report concluded with a conditional use permit, Sanctuary Lodge would be a public facility “in all zones.”

“There was a very lengthy discussion at the P&Z board meeting,” he said. “I found where this public facility would fit into our zoning regulations.”

Moyes said equine therapy would be a major element in treating traumatized girls and women for up to 90 days, with couples attending much shorter programs. The property’s solitude and wildlife are key for healing, he said.

Moyes answered questions from commissioners Doug Vickrey, Sam White, chair Joel Bousman, Tom Noble and Dave Stephens.

Noble asked what state agency would provide oversight. Moyes said Wyoming “is running behind” the merging of medical and mental health and does yet not have a mechanism.

Vickrey asked Moyes about the Sanctuary Lodge’s proposed chapel – an element of the proposed public facility. “My understanding is it’s under construction?”

“Correct,” Moyes said.

Vickrey asked why the chapel was being built when the Sanctuary CUP was not yet approved.

A chapel does not require board approval, Moyes said, and is an “already approved use.”

P&Z board member Chris Lacinak reminded Moyes that opening the prayer chapel to the public would need a CUP.

Critical

Moyes reminded commissioners Fornstrom 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.”

Moyes was scathing in his assessment of the “volunteer” board, which “produced no material facts to support its negative vote,” made administrative gaffes and used “flawed reasoning.”

“Due process was not given to us,” he continued. “They are an advisory group; their decision can be ignored. … I believe you should disregard it.”

The commissioners are the decision makers, Moyes said, and they should overrule the board.

He cited 30 to 35 new jobs, 16 for licensed therapists for 32 residential clients.

“Sublette County has a lack of mental health professionals; we will bring this to the county.”

This property offers safety and seclusion for their clients and won’t have odors, emissions or risks to public safety; developers are working with Wyoming Game and Fish, Sublette County Unified Fire and the Sheriff’s Office, he said.

As for water supply, the property’s aquifer recharges so quickly, if they turned on the pump and ran it continuously it would have “zero impact.”

Moyes quoted the Sublette County Comprehensive Plan’s goals of abundant economic freedom, local values and social, economic and ecologically sound development.

And it has Fornstrom’s support, he added.

“No material facts or findings were presented at the board meeting.”

Questions

Stephens asked how much land Moyes would develop with the lodge, buildings and parking lot; he estimated 2 acres. “Let’s say 4 acres. Less than 1 percent.”

White and Noble asked if Moyes would store extra water for firefighting, which he could.

Noble also asked if the facility would be nonprofit; he said, “When you operate as a nonprofit you have a lot of input from the state.”

It might have a for-profit owner and nonprofit funding – depending on tax remedies, Moyes said. “We’re looking at what would keep us from the whims of the IRS.”

Vickrey asked why the geology subsurface study only looked at a single story when the CUP is for a two-story, 32,000-square-foot lodge. Moyes didn’t know.

Bousman said they needed two findings for the conditional use permit. Was it a proper use of the location and would it be detrimental to neighbors’ property values. County assessor Laila Illoway sent a message that the facility would be assessed “commercial” for tax purposes and not affect residential or ag assessments.

“The other consideration of course, is this a public facility … as defined by the language in our regulations,” Bousman said.

Lacinak related the board’s discussion of that issue, adding Moyes made “negative and inaccurate” statements about the P&Z board.

“This is not about (the facility’s) virtue but if it meets the (draft) zoning regulations,” Lacinak said.

‘Forthcoming’

Lacinak pointed out the board has reworked “forthcoming” county zoning regulations with much more detail about CUPs for each zoning district. “This is not how a CUP is meant to be used.”

Commissioners tabled approving these new regulations several meetings ago

“That doesn’t pertain to what we’re looking at now,” White said.

So commissioners would consider this CUP “under current regulations.”

Adjacent landowners like Tara Miller and Kevin Roche said their conservation easements were meant to protect the Hoback Rim’s solitude, wildlife and natural aspects from development.

Several neighbors said they decided Sanctuary Lodge would be a better fit than 35-acre homesites. Highway 191 traffic at the top of the Hoback Rim is already unsafe and noisy, one said. One added Moyes gave “an unfair characterization” of the P&Z board’s “very good job.”

Desperate need

Rev. Melinda Bobo gave her support in a speech about a need for Sanctuary Lodge.

“This is a retreat center; this is a sanctuary,” she said. “This is not a hospital. … We desperately have a need for this kind of facility in Wyoming. We desperately have a need for this kind of facility in Sublette County.”

Neighboring landowners criticized  developers’ and officials’ lack of notice about the proposal.

“Nobody’s ever come and said, ‘Hi, I’m your new neighbor. What’s you thoughts on this?” said Tracy Tomnic. “… All the pieces aren’t presented here.”

He asked commissioners to “figure it out first before we go ahead and green-light it.”

When people on Zoom could comment, Dan Smitherman’s comments weren’t audible. Miller, however, called Moyes “a fake and a phony” and son of a b***.

“I think you’re out of order,” Bousman said.

Rebuttal

Moyes asked if public comments were closed.

“I have been called worse. I don’t think this is the process the county envisioned as part of the (planning) code. The system works well until it hits a certain stage.”

Other ag landowners have received CUPS without blowback for a dude ranch, overnight guests and “glamping,” he said.

People against his project protest “only when it’s in their back yard. You can’t have two standards. I’m a Sublette County resident. Like it or not, I am.”

Regarding nearby conservation easements, Moyes said they “are written to benefit the owners” for “tax breaks.”

Their facility will not impact water or wildlife; trees being harvested will be cut into firewood for  county residents, he said, doing “more than anyone else around here.”

“At the root of what’s being decided here, do property rights apply to everyone … fairly and equally?”

Perspectives

Bousman said he had questions from the start but came to understand the facility’s need for “security, safety and seclusion.”

“I had to educate myself” about the facility’s need and purpose, he said. “Young women in this county would benefit from having this facility in this county.”

Also, Moyes had done a lot of research and works with relevant agencies. “I intend to support this application for conditional use.”

White said he first “tried hard to figure out a way to say no.”

But he agreed with Melinkovich and Fornstrom it is an appropriate conditional use for this property.

Stephens thanked the large crowd in the Pinedale Library’s Lovatt Room for c board for “their hours and days” they put into this discussion.

“I can’t see that five planning and zoning people (on the board) are wrong,” he said. “I can’t see five of them being wrong.”

He did not favor the project, “no way,” he said.

Vickrey said he was not in favor either, partly because of the winter storms that hit the Hoback Rim, creating public safety hazards. Having five staff watching 30 or more youth was another concern.

As for “need,” he said, local families might have a child who needs the help but due to “local stigma,” they would send them elsewhere.

Noble said after reviewing everything in front of him, Moyes and Fornstrom “went above and beyond” and he favored the proposal.

Melinkovich provided Bousman and the others with a document to go through two findings separately. Votes for each were 3-2, with Vickrey and Stephens voting against.

Bousman followed a similar document for each commissioner’s approval or not of eight criteria for the CUP. “These 23 new jobs are primary.”

The vote was the same, 3-2.

He thanked the crowd “whether you agree with me or not.”

Sitting and talking things through “is the way the system is supposed to work,” he said.

“I have made it a point to follow the direction of our appointed board, 5-0,” Vickrey said. “They have done the heavy lifting and legwork. And we have sat here and negated their message.”

White acknowledged the P&Z board and wanted to make sure they know the value of their opinions. “It’s all right to disagree.”

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