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Sublette commission approval for resort under scrutiny

Gros Ventre Wilderness area near Bondurant

By Joy Ufford
Sublette Examiner
Via- Wyoming News Exchange

PINEDALE – Many people are calling for Sublette County commissioners who voted to approve rezoning of 56 agricultural acres to recreational for a destination resort on a Bondurant ranch to answer for themselves.

On Dec. 7, commissioners Doug Vickrey, Sam White, chair Joel Bousman, Tom Noble and Dave Stephens set aside two hours to hear from the public concerning Jackson Fork Ranch owner Joe Ricketts’ rezoning request to build a destination resort on the rural dirt Upper Hoback Road.

Hundreds of people opposing it had already sent emails and letters and made phone calls; a petition was submitted to them before the planning and zoning portion of their regular meeting.

On Nov. 18, the public had done the same, sitting in or watching the Sublette County Planning and Zoning Board’s discussion about whether or not the rezoning application fit into county policies and rezoning rules.

The board’s purpose is to review all P&Z requests and decide if its members could recommend approval to the commissioners, who have the final say. The board reviewed a similar request from Ricketts’ agent Morgan Fischer last year and at that time voted, 4-1, to recommend denial of a 45-room lodge and employee housing.

Commissioners also denied that 2020 request.

Fischer said this time the revised proposed resort would have 15 to 20 rooms, no employee housing and two to eight large guest “cabins.” He also offered incentives if the board approved it that night.

After listening to the public and Fischer, the board determined on Nov. 18, with a 3-2 vote, that the revised rezoning application did not fall under community needs or interests and that making the change would result in overflow from Jackson into Bondurant, a rural Sublette community that is closer to Jackson than Pinedale.

The board, as does the public, must refer to the applications’ information and compare it to the county policy and rezoning criteria.

Board chair Blake Greenhalgh did not explain his aye vote to recommend rezoning, but member Ken Marincic did. Three board members who voted to deny – Maike Tan, Chris Lacinak and Pat Burroughs – spoke extensively about the new application still not meeting positive county goals.

At the county commissioners’ Dec. 7, held in the Pinedale Library’s Lovatt Room and also attended by Ricketts, chair Bousman told the 80 to 100 people in the room that the commission was well aware of most people’s opposition to setting a rezoning precedent.

After hearing from people raising their hands online and in the audience, as well as billionaire Ricketts’ speech about leaving a viable legacy at Jackson Fork Ranch, White made a motion to approve the rezoning application.

Voting aye were White, Bousman and Noble, with only Bousman saying the resort along the Upper Hoback River might educate people about the rural lifestyle Ricketts described earlier with his bison ranch and registered Percheron draft horses.

Vickrey voted against the rezoning, saying he spent three sleepless nights before this meeting pondering what to do and in the end, it came down to the county’s goals and rezoning criteria – many of which he felt had incomplete or unknown answers.

Stephens also voted against the rezoning, saying simply the people who elected him did not want it, and he was going to represent his voters.

Voters from the rest of the county might well have urged the commissioners they voted for to accept the rezoning deal, thinking of the resort in terms of how the rest of the county might benefit.

Despite repeated requests from the public and the Sublette Examiner, the three commissioners have refused to explain their reasonings based on the rezoning criteria or county policies.

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