Jackson Hole Classical Academy

Following a dispute over the Jackson Hole Classical Academy ultimately decided by the state Legislature, county commissioners have approved a code “cleanup” applying to the size of similar institutional buildings.

The Teton County Board of County Commissioners voted 3-2 to change how the county permits large buildings for “institutional uses,” a broad category covering schools, hospitals, churches and other facilities that provide public or semipublic services. The Jan. 21 vote followed a saga that came to symbolize local versus state control over zoning.

About a year ago, commissioners shot down the Classical Academy’s request to change county rules and expand the maximum building size for schools in rural zones from 10,0000 to 30,000 square feet. The school responded to the county’s rejection by turning to the Wyoming Legislature, which put forth a bill exempting private schools from county zoning authority if they met certain conditions.

Commissioners wrote a letter to Cheyenne opposing the bill, Senate File 49. In giving the missive the go-ahead, Commissioner Mark Barron said he flagged the issue for review.

“We can’t see what a future commission would have in front of them in terms of community need that runs up against this maximum building size,” Barron said. “We’re doing a disservice leaving this as is.”

Barron’s request to reconsider the regulations lived, as did the Legislature’s bill, allowing the private school to sidestep county regulations and build more than 10,000 square feet.

Barron and Commissioner Greg Epstein have both discussed adding flexibility to keep Cheyenne from intervening in local issues.

“It’s important to send examples to the state,” Epstein said Tuesday. “Part of our regulations might be too strict or stringent, and we’re willing to reexamine some of those and create some more user-friendly regs in some scenarios instead of just saying, ‘These are our regs, take ’em or leave ’em.’”

Some of those adapted rules are now on the table.

The maximum building size amendment allows developers to pursue large institutional buildings that meet certain criteria in seven zones that allow institutional uses but previously capped square footage at various levels. The four other zones in which institutional uses are allowed did not have square footage caps.

In all 11 zones that permit institutional use, the use and physical development of new, large institutional buildings will be required to stay within or directly adjacent to one of five complete neighborhoods in the county. Those include Wilson; Teton Village; the Aspens and Teton Pines area; West Jackson, which, as defined in the Jackson/Teton County Comprehensive Plan, straddles the town and county; and two stretches along S. Highway 89: the South Park business park and Munger Mountain areas.

That condition was important for development watchdog Rich Bloom, who spoke with the planning department when it was drafting the amendment to support two changes.

One was constraining large, institutional development to complete neighborhood areas. The other was language that would give neighbors what he described as “adequate” public notice of planned development.

Commissioners sided with Bloom on the first issue. They split from him on the public notice consideration, the same issue that caused Commissioners Luther Propst and Mark Newcomb to dissent from the board’s decision.

Comfortable with the amount of public review required by a conditional use permit in the R-1 and R-2 zones — public hearings with planning and county commissioners — Barron, Epstein and Chairwoman Natalia D. Macker supported dropping public sketch and development plan reviews in those areas. The other nine zones permitting institutional use require both processes, giving the public more opportunity to comment on big building plans.

Barron said adding those to the R-1 and R-2 zones would have increased the regulatory burden on those pursuing institutional development in those zones.

“A conditional use permit alone is a very well-advertised, well-regarded public notice with ample opportunity for the public to come in and see the plan, review the plan and opine on the plan,” he said.

Propst saw it differently.

“I strongly err towards more public participation rather than less public participation as a matter of principal,” Propst said.

Contact Billy Arnold at 732-7063 or barnold@jhnewsandguide.com.

Teton County Reporter

Previously the Scene editor, Billy Arnold made the switch to the county beat where he's interested in exploring Teton County as a model for the rest of the West. When he can, he still writes about art, music and whatever else suits his fancy.

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