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How are a site plan, county requirements and zoning applied in Wyoming?

Posted by Gayla K. Austin | Feb 27, 2021 | 0 Comments

The Wyoming Supreme Court, in a decision released February 1, 2021 clarifyied the relationship between the Laramie County Planning Commission's authority to deny or approve a site plan and land use and how that authority applies under the planning and zoning law in Wyoming.   Overview of a county planning department in Wyoming is governed by the Wyoming Administrative Procedure Act.   In the case, Asphalt Specialities Co., Inc. v. Laramie County Planning Commission, the Commission denied the project of Asphalt Specialities, concluding "the applicant's proposed use does not fulfill the purpose of the site plan regulation.  It does not adequately protect the health, safety and welfare of Laramie County residents.  It also fails to support the community vision described in the Laramie County Comprehensive plan and it does not effectively balance economic development with other equally important needs in the community".  

In Wyoming, there is no question that the Planning Commission has statutory authority to regulate use of lands.   However, the Court said the question is more exact:  If Laramie County has not exercised its statutory authority to zone the property in question, can it deny or restrict Asphalt's proposed land use?  

The Laramie County Planning Commission's Zoning Authority. 

Statutes in Wyoming expressly permit the county to regulate and restrict the location and use of buildings and structures and the use, condition of use or occupancy of lands for industry, commerce, public use and other purposes in the unincorporated area of the county.  The restriction of a particular land use is accomplished through zoning and extends to restricting use for the development of, in this case, sand, gravel and rock.  

The land belonging to Asphalt has not been zoned by Laramie County and there are no land use regulations governing mining operations.  The County does have a comprehensive land use plan and Laramie County Land Use Regulations that require submission, review and approval of site use plans in regulatory areas.  It is the land planning measures that Laramie County interprets as providing sufficient legal authority to deny Asphalt's proposed project.  

The question then is, whether Laramie County impermissibly expanded it's authority to prohibit the use of Asphalt's property as a hard rock quarry.  

The Wyoming Supreme Court then applied long recognize statutory and legal distinctions between planning and zoning, and include it has.  

The Wyoming legislature has mandated that each county adopt a countywide land use plan, statutorily defined as "any written statement of land use policies, goals, and objectives adopted by local governments.  Such plan shall relate to an explanation of the methods for implementation; however, these plans shall not require any provisions for zoning".  Therefore, a comprehensive plan is a prerequisite for the adoption of zoning resolutions.  Such is the case with the Laramie County comprehensive plan, which is "advisory in nature".  See Laramie County Comprehensive Plan, Section 1.2 p. 7 (June 2016).  Laramie County Land Use Regulations can be found at W.S. Section 1-3-1101 (2019).  

Distinction Between Zoning and Planning. 

The Court said that "zoning is statutorily defined as a form of regulatory control granted to local governments which may be used to guide and develop specific allowable land use".  Zoning is the process that a community employs to control the use that may be made of property and the development of tracts of land located within its jurisdiction.  Zoning resolutions must be adopted by the board of County Commissioners in accordance with the statutorily prescribed process for considering the Planning Commissions's recommendations.  It is the proper zoning enactment which has the force and effect of law.  Comprehensive plans lack the legal effect of zoning laws and cannot be equated with comprehensive zoning in legal significance.  

Review and approval of a site plan application are tools the Commission may use to ensure the goals set forth in the County's comprehensive plan are met.  But these regulations are separate and distinct from zoning regulations found in Title 4 of the Land Use Regulations.  In a 1978 Wyoming case called Ford, the Court found that where Albany County, Wyoming did not employ a traditional, zoned, land use systems, it could not grant or deny a permit restricting use of that property.  Only after a county has adopted zoning regulations can it restrict a landowner from using land without obtaining a zoning certificate.  

Should the Board of County Commissioners pursue zoning, all county citizens and landowners can then be heard regarding proposed use.  With no zoning, the Commission does not have authority to deny a project.  

Significance of the Laramie County Planning Commission's Regulatory Control under a comprehensive land use plan concerning site plan review and approval. 

The Wyoming legislature has limited the legal effect of county planning documents and regulations like the County's Land Use Regulations.    They can be used to set land use policies, goals and objectives but they cannot be used to restrict a proposed use.  Use restriction can only be accomplished through zoning.  

If you would like review of your property for use authorized use and the county and state of Wyoming requirements regarding planning and zoning, please call me at 307.200.1914 for a free telephone or videoconference.   

About the Author

Gayla K. Austin

I enjoy helping clients put it all together with legal advice regarding real property, estate planning and business entities.

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