Judge rules targeted development on state land in Teton County is constitutional
The ruling weighs on the county’s ability to enforce water-quality, building and fire-code regulations at a glamping operation under construction on state school trust land.
By Angus M. Thuermer Jr., WyoFile
A controversial law that required the state to seek opportunities to maximize revenue from development on state-owned land in Teton County does not violate the Wyoming Constitution, a judge ruled Tuesday.
Teton County had contended that House Bill 162 – State Trust Lands Proposal and Study treats state school trust land in Teton County differently from similar land in other Wyoming counties. That’s not allowed, the county argued in legal filings.
The county is in a fight with the Wyoming Board of Land Commissioners, contending that developments the board allowed on school trust land are not adhering to county codes as required. The state granted permission for the construction of geodesic glamping domes and a self-storage facility near Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.
But Teton County’s arguments were made more than two years after the legislative-mandated study to identify profitable development was completed, First District Court Judge Steven K. Sharpe of Cheyenne wrote in an order Tuesday. As such, “any questions concerning the constitutionality of the Study Act were immediately rendered moot,” the judge wrote.
Sharpe also dismissed an effort by Teton County to enforce a contract between the state and developers that requires new development to adhere to county building codes and other regulations. The judge wouldn’t agree to that because the county is not a party to the contract and “privity [a legal relationship between the county and the other parties] is lacking.”
Finally, Sharpe rejected a request by area residents to intervene in the case “at this time,” saying among other things that they had not defined impacts and harm the developments would have on them “beyond that of a member of the public at large.” The residents belonging to Citizens for Responsible Use of State Lands “are located more than 1 mile from where the permitted activity is occurring,” Sharpe wrote.
Who said what
Teton County said it would forge ahead, looking to resolve the overarching issue of whether counties can enforce building codes and regulations on state land. The attorney for the citizens’ group said his clients are considering their options.
“Our clients are very disappointed that their voices will not be heard on such an important issue and are considering an appeal to the Wyoming Supreme Court and other legal remedies,” Bill Schwartz said in a statement for the group.
Luther Propst, chairman of the Teton County Board of Commissioners, said it would continue to pursue the case in the interests of its residents.
“Judge Sharpe’s recent ruling is no surprise,” Propst wrote in a statement. “The judge takes a thoughtful approach to simplify the issue and is now moving to address the central issue of state’s sovereign immunity – or whether and the extent to which the state must follow local regulations that protect public health, safety and general welfare.”
The county is following its duty to protect citizens, including from water pollution and fire danger, both issues the local government says are relevant to the glamping operation, which the county has called a hotel, being constructed by Basecamp Hospitality.
“This ruling may address an arcane but important legal question that affects everything from water quality to electrical wiring and fire protection,” Propst wrote.
Developer Scott Hardeman said his Westbank Storage and Rentals on the state parcel has applied for and received county permits even though he doesn’t believe they were required. “We want to be good neighbors,” he said.
Sharpe seeks to move the case forward. In his ruling he noted that it’s been almost a year since the Board of Land Commissioners sued Teton County to stop abatement procedures it took against development.
Westbank Storage and Rentals is open for business while construction of the Basecamp domes and facilities continues.
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