SUBLETTE COUNTY – Months spent revising Sublette County’s zoning and development regulations are winding down – but these are not yet official.
The Sublette County Planning & Zoning Commission’s draft adds clarity – for example the term “commercial” is not in the 2019 version but defined in the 2022 draft. It also expands the term “public entity” beyond its original definition.
Looking back and forth between 2019 regulations and the 2022 version, the commission and public both had a lot to say at its Sept. 15 meeting, when Jason Moyes requested a conditional use permit for a “public facility,” the Sanctuary Lodge trauma-therapy center on former ranch land they purchased by the Hoback Rim.
The 600-plus-acre property would house a women’s treatment center for 32 residents with art, equine, music and recreational therapies. Approved uses of ag-zoned land range from gravel pits to guest ranches; the use as a “public facility” requires county commissioners’ final approval of the Moyes’ conditional use permit application.
At least 60 citizens for and mostly against the proposal spoke in the P&Z Commission’s too-small meeting room that night. Chair Blake Greenhalgh opened with Pat Burroughs, Chris Lacinak, Ken Marincic and Maike Tan present.
County planner Dennis Fornstrom started by saying a “public facility” is listed as a conditional use of ag-zoned land. The CUP would not change the overall zoning, just allow a public facility.
“This type of trauma-care facility falls into the state’s definition as a hospital,” he said. “I feel that it does meet our regulations as a public facility.”
Deputy county attorney Clayton Melinkovich said he received comments about “what is a public facility” and the county’s definition is from Supreme Court decisions. The Board of Sublette County Commissioners is the administrative agency defining “public use,” he said.
Not a business plan
“The crux of what to decide what the definition is, is here today,” said Mike Jackson from Rio Verde Engineering.
He explained keeping it ag-zoned with a “public facility” conditional use permit, would mean not rezoning a commercial parcel.
“This application is for a use, not a business management plan,” Jackson said. The proposal includes a 32,000 square-foot “substantial” lodge in trees at the south end of the ridge and therapeutic activities. Data show low and medium use for mule deer migration and potentially high use as a pronghorn migration corridor.
“The main structure (is) outside the corridor” and covers 2 percent of the property, he said.
Neighbors’ concerns about water availability are “valid” and Jackson estimated the facility would use 610,000 gallons a year. A domestic well with a four-bedroom home could draw up to 325,000 gallons a year.
Its public water and sewer systems are regulated by the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality and CUP approval would being a closer estimate of water use.
Moyes said he the retreat was “a delicate topic” with wildlife and water concerns.
“We only want to do this here,” he said of Sanctuary Lodge. “If something changes, then the land is not taken out of ag (zoning).”
It would not become a resort.
Women and girls seeking therapy “need quiet, nature and solitude,” he said, and the proposal considers neighbors’ concerns “and ours too.”
The Governor’s Executive Order on the Sublette Mule Deer Migration Corridor calls for few if any restrictions on private-property development, Moyes said, but he met with Wyoming Game and Fish wildlife coordinator Brandon Scurlock about migration mitigation.
Moyes described the state’s “precious few resources for trauma survivors to heal.” Clients would receive 90 days of “experiential modalities” with equine therapy “paramount” – so the Moyes brought 16 “killer-pen horses” to nurse back to health.
Clients would be privately registered; payments could come from insurance companies, nonprofits or possibly private sources.
Moyes clarified it is not associated with SAFV Task Force but could make a connection.
Tan called it “a noble endeavor” but her position is “not to question what you’re doing; we stick to our 10 requirements.”
Lacinak agreed: “Tonight is not a moral referendum on the need (for a therapy facility). It’s really about planning and zoning and the criteria we have to consider.”
He questioned Scurlock about wildlife disturbances, grizzly habitat and the as-yet unofficial pronghorn migration corridor’s primary route up and over into the Hoback Rim. The pronghorn route is still being refined, Scurlock said, and Game and Fish hasn’t studied development effects outside oil and gas.
“There’s no precedent; we’re it,” Scurlock said.
“There’s going to be development,” Marincic said. “Which is going to affect (wildlife) the most? It seems like a facility would be less than a lot of houses?”
“Death by a thousand cuts,” Scurlock said.
Greenhalgh opened the floor for public comments. Many spoke against the treatment facility’s location, purpose, potential profits, water use – and wildlife.
Some asked about the distance from medical centers. Neighbors on Sargent Lane worried about traffic at the Rim; others questioned the public facility being private. Water came up often, with some Hoback Ranches homeowners saying they haul water in.
Most opposition was about wildlife; some credited the Moyes for the project.
Neighbor Kevin Roche criticized the “desktop analysis for the wildlife assessment” with one day in the field, May 18, calling it “insufficient and inadequate.”
Carol Artes believed in the Moyes’ passion but at $70,000 to $89,000 for a 90-day stay, the facility would be “for white privileged girls and females.”
Dan Smitherman said, “I’m confused if it’s public or private. The application says it’s not intended for the general public so how can it be a public facility? … I’m struggling with the ‘need,’ you should have data about referrals.”
Amber Bess works for the Moyes and “appreciate(s) the dream and the heart behind this.”
“A facility like this one is needed,” she said, adding she once needed a safe place. “I hope none of you ever experience needed a place to go. … It’s a heart thing. It’s a passion project.”
Tammy Heuck said, “These people are trying to steward the land to the best of their abilities. … It’s about them meeting your criteria and doing what they say they’re going to be doing.”
Madeleine Moyes said people’s “lives are really important too. We need a place as special as this. What better place for healing to happen?”
Dan Bailey said the project “overwhelming misses” 34 of the 2003 Sublette County Comprehensive Plan rules. He questioned its “economic benefit” and “best location. It may be a noble cause but it affects people that live nearby.”
Miller said her family’s ag conservation easements along the highway “were put there for a reason. … I think the whole thing is phony and fake.”
People / wildlife
Amy Elliot read sister-in-law Melinda Moyes’ letter, saying she is “very passionate about helping others.” She once toured a trauma center for boys and found “no place for girls impacted by trauma.”
“Growth is rarely spoke of in positive ways,” Elliot said. “It’s easy to say no (to growth). Land use is one way we can serve these broken kids.”
Lisi Krall said wild animals are 4 percent of the world’s mammals: “We’re fighting here in part for the sum of that 4 percent.”
As for treatment facilities, “Unfortunately I have tremendous history dealing with rehab. It is an industry. What I see here is a niche, a niche that takes money from rich people’s pockets. It is a lucrative business and it is a business that is not regulated.”
Mariah Moyes said she is “the inspiration behind this project” and talked about her daily struggles. “If it was just for business, we would not be here.”
Their rescued horses would be a huge part of therapy, she said.
One woman said, “If I had known a 32,000-square-foot mental health facility was within three-quarters of a mile of my house, I wouldn’t have bought it.”
Greenhalgh was asked what Moyes needed to build a 32,000-square-foot barn on ag-zoned property.
“A building permit.”
Jason Moyes worked to answer questions. To make the Sanctuary Lodge sustainable, it would offer couples’ therapy. Its primary goal is to intervene in young girls’ and women’s lives, he said. “Couples need to work through trauma from earlier in life.”
And it would be a public facility owned by a private entity. Moyes cited past challenging but successful business ventures and is “supremely confident” about attracting qualified staff.
“People keep saying there are 10 factors for us to consider,” Burroughs said. “That’s not true. If it’s a zoning district change. A conditional use permit has different criteria.”
There are two considerations, she said, the location and if the CUP is detrimental to public health, welfare or adjacent landowners.
At 11 p.m., the commission began its decision-making process.
Lacinak thanked the public for attending. “The decision is not about cost, the Moyes’ intentions, traumatized people … or about if humans or animals are better.”
He appreciated Melinkovich’s and Moyes’ interpretations of “public facility” but disagreed with them.
Sanctuary Lodge was not a government entity or one with “quasi-public uses,” Lacinak said. “’Quasi-public’ is a term for entities fulfilling a need for the public as an entity for the government. In the 2003 comprehensive plan, a “public facility” would be a clinic.
“It most certainly is a commercial operation. Forthcoming planning and zoning regulations do define ‘commercial.’” It fills a special need but would “have all the trappings of a business.”
Tan said they agreed Wyoming lacks treatment options. “I wish this wasn’t in this (ag) zoning. … Your intent is honorable but our main concerns is historical migration corridors that have to be respected and are not being respected.”
Burroughs said they “go by the zoning rules and regulations and the comprehensive plan.” It was “absolutely not” the best location and would be detrimental to neighboring landowners, she said.
Marincic said Lacinak made good points but he didn’t feel Sanctuary Lodge would have the same impacts as 35-acre residential lots.
He acknowledged new information about pronghorn migration routes – “I understand that’s a really big thing but I don’t think there’s any law says it needs to be considered. It comes down to ‘not in my backyard.’”
Greenhalgh said, “I love what you guys want to do. A very eloquent lawyer could argue it is a public facility.”
But rezoning might be “more appropriate,” he said. “It doesn’t meet much (CUP) criteria. I don’t think it’s the appropriate way it should have been brought forward.”
Lacinak moved to deny recommending Moyes’ CUP request to the Sublette County commissioners’ at their Oct. 4 meeting, in the Pinedale Library’s Lovatt Room.
“All opposed; motion passes,” Greenhalgh said of the vote.
To find the current 2003 Sublette County Comprehensive Plan, 2019 zoning and development regulations and the updated draft of 2022 regulations, use this link: "https://www.sublettewyo.com/123/Planning-Zoning"https://www.sublettewyo.com/123/Planning-Zoning. Regulations, forms and processes are in lefthand columns. The pdfs are not accessible through the sublettewyo.com connection.