Planning commission draws the line


"How do we divvy this up?" Saratoga Planning Commission member Will Faust asked at a Sept. 13 meeting of the group. Perhaps the quintessential question of planning, Faust was referring in this case to Saratoga's area of influence or town buffer zone, which must change to reflect new statutes from Cheyenne.

The buffer zone, also called a realm of influence, is an area outside of but in close proximity to town limits. As enforced in the past, this zone extended one mile beyond town limits to form a bubble wherein municipal and town building codes were enforced by Saratoga. Areas outside of the buffer zone fell under Carbon County jurisdiction.

With a watchful eye on potential action from the statehouse, the town planning commission and county officials are working to change the shape of this bubble, largely by shrinking it. Attendees at the Sept. 13 meeting were shown the tentative outlines of that new bubble (see maps on page 7) as conceived Sept. 12 by a working group of town and county officials. The boundaries have yet to be approved and adopted by Saratoga and Carbon County.

Representing the county at the meeting were county commissioner Sue Jones and county planner Sid Fox, while Faust and fellow planning commission member Jim Beckmann sat in for the town. A Geographical Information Science (GIS) specialist was also on hand to help sketch out the contours of the proposed buffer area.

The proposal would extend the town realm of influence in some areas, but leave that bubble shrunken overall. Several commission members used the word arbitrary to describe the old map, citing one property that was bisected by the line so that half the land was subject to town code while the other half answered to the county.

Under the old system, Mountain View Estates and the Old Baldy Club were left half inside and half outside the influence zone. If the new proposal gets approval, all of Old Baldy Club would be inside the bubble, while Mountain View Estates would be entirely excluded from town jurisdiction.

All present reacted positively to the newly drawn up maps. Acting commission chair Karl Smith, filling in for an absent Rory Grubb, said he generally liked what Beckmann and Faust were proposing, but he wanted to drive the sites and inspect them himself.

"We can't really recommend a picture to the council," Smith noted, referring to the maps. He said that hammering out language for a potential memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the county and the town would be the next step and should be worked on at the next planning commission meeting.

Smith set a goal of December or January for having an MOU to present to the Saratoga Town Council for approval. "The county planning commission can get behind it if we can get behind it," Faust reported from his discussions with Fox.

Another area the planning commission is working on updating is language in the town's planned unit development, or PUD, process. Sept. 13, Smith reported back to the commission on some of the language changes he was considering recommending to clear up the process for applicants and regulators alike.

After the meeting, Smith said he hoped the revised PUD language can be finalized some time in the spring.

Smith said at the meeting the current PUD statutes, as laid out in chapter 18.51 of the Saratoga town code were unclear, possibly contradictory and should be revised. The planning commission spent about 40 minutes reviewing Smith's ideas, but did not take any formal votes during the early phases of revisions.

The planning commission did, however, vote on several action items on the agenda. After getting some specifics from local entrepreneurs Bill and Georgia Schroer, the commission unanimously approved a special use permit the couple had applied for to run an auto-detailing business out of their garage.

The commission looked less favorably on resident Dave Johnson's request for a variance to build a structure on a smaller than permitted lot, however. "I don't see an unnecessary hardship here," Smith told Johnson, who reacted to the denial angrily.

Because Johnson had never been denied a building permit by Saratoga, the commission decided that he had no grounds to apply for a variance and declined to vote on his request. "When you come back with a 50-foot property line then we'll be in a good position (to grant you permission to build)," Smith told him firmly.

Copperline Lodge operator Dan Pont fielded advice from the commission about how to get permission to add a tent camping component to his business. After some discussion, the commission suggested Pont start talking to his neighbors and move forward with applying for a special use permit for the endeavor.

The next meeting of the Saratoga Planning Commission will be 5:30 p.m. Oct. 11 at the Saratoga Town Hall.


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