The Saratoga Sun -

Water you talking about?

Water rights become center of discussion for proposed RV park

 

March 10, 2021

Joshua Wood

A sign advertising the new RV park announces its arrival this summer. Those plans may be pushed back, however.

The first recreational vehicle (RV) park to be constructed since the passage of the Town of Saratoga's RV park ordinance may be in the ditches, quite literally, following the March 2 meeting of the Saratoga Town Council.

Over the past year, Saratoga residents James (Jimmy) and Jamie Campbell have sought to construct a new RV park along Wyoming Highway 130. Under the name JaJaCa Properties, the couple have sought a zone amendment, a special use permit and an RV park permit. While confusion over whether the project needed one or the other or both have delayed the project, the recent discussion of water rights has muddied the conversation.

Permit or permits?

The discussion of whether it was one permit or multiple permits needed for the construction of an RV park has been taking place between members of the town council, members of the planning commission and the Campbells since October. 

On October 20, the governing body approved a zone amendment for JaJaCa Properties, changing a portion of their property from light industrial to highway business. At that same meeting, the council also discussed the approval of a special use permit.

Section 18.69.010 of the Saratoga Municipal Code states the Saratoga Planning Commission has the authority to approve special use permits while appeals of such approvals or denials may be made to the Saratoga Town Council.

According to minutes from the October 20 meeting of the Saratoga Town Council, the planning commission approved a special use permit for JaJaCa Properties. While a notification of a public hearing at the October 13 meeting of the Saratoga Planning Commission was in the September 23 Saratoga Sun, the council said that minutes from the meeting showed that no such hearing took place. Audio from the meeting confirms this.

"I have the receipt saying you cashed it (the check)," said Jimmy Campbell. "I would like permission to continue my project and, once I've installed my utilities, I will hold off until I get my RV park permit."

Jimmy Campbell cited unusual circumstances in a request for leniency from the Saratoga Town Council in regards to the RV park permit. That request for leniency centered around ditches that ran through the property owned by the Campbells but supplied water to Cathy and John MacPherson's One Pine Ranch.

According to section 18.58.010 of the municipal code, any applicant for an RV park must provide a completed application and two sets of plans to the zoning officer 45 days prior to a planning commission meeting for review. During the February 9 Saratoga Planning Commission meeting, Chairman Tom Westring stated that he was under the impression that the council had sent the RV park permit from JaJaCa Properties back to the planning commission because they weren't provided site plans.

"Right, because like I explained to them, we were not building an RV park until we actually had approval from the Town to build the RV park so we did not tell our engineer to start doing the plans," Jimmy Campbell said on February 9. "We were looking to get approval before we start dumping all this money into engineers and everything else." 

On October 20, Councilmember D'Ron Campbell apologized to Jimmy and Jamie Campbell, saying that the planning commission had done the couple a disservice and that they would also need an RV park permit. She added, however, needing to go through that process did not exclude them from obtaining a building permit to take utilities up to the property or to perform any grading or excavation work on the property.

"I expressed this in the last town council meeting when you asked me for all the plans and I said I couldn't have my engineer make plans 'til I knew I could build an RV park and I would get that to you as soon as I got it and that we were under unusual circumstances because this is a matter of rising rivers, ditches coming on and my utilities have to be across by April 1," said Jimmy Campbell on March 2. "Even if I can just put my utilities across my ditches on April 1, I will stop complete progress on the work until the 45 days is over."

As discussion continued, Mayor Creed James stated that he had listened to audio from the October 20 meeting and that Jimmy Campbell had acknowledged the requirements for obtaining an RV park permit. Those requirements, outlined in 18.58.010, include description of surface material to be used, the size and location of structures and a floor plan of the service building.

Similar to the October 20 meeting, Councilmember Campbell again proposed that JaJaCa Properties could extend their utilities while going through the process of an RV park permit. That, however, was where the discussion of water rights came in.

Whose water right?

While Jimmy Campbell informed the Saratoga Town Council that the RV park would have a positive economic impact on Saratoga, James stated that even though the council was for the project they had to consider any negative impacts per section 18.69.010(C)(2) of the municipal code. That section dictates that, when considering the approval of a special use permit, the planning commission must determine "The proposed use will not be detrimental to the surrounding area or to established uses."

It was at this point that Cathy MacPherson addressed the governing body. It should be noted that the MacPhersons are partners with Tom Thompson, who served as legal counsel to the Town of Saratoga from January 2019 to December 2020.

"The concern we have is we have vested properties. We have water rights that are pre-1904, which means that we're not subject to the North Platte decree. We have maintenance rights, we have the right of access and what we want to make certain is that our property rights are protected," said MacPherson. "When Campbells bought the property, they knew that we had those easements and that we had those water rights. When they came to talk to us back in July of 2020, we told them we had to have a written agreement that addresses everybody's interests and rights."

As the discussion continued and, at times, grew heated, MacPherson told the governing body that both the MacPhersons and the Campbells would need to come to an agreement before any construction could begin on the RV park. In response, Jimmy Campbell stated that his attorney, Seth Johnson, had sent the MacPhersons a five page contract which was denied. In turn, according to Jimmy Campbell, the MacPhersons presented JaJaCa Properties with a 14 page contract.

"The last proposal that the MacPhersons gave us want us to restrict 25 percent of our property. They do not want us accessing the north property, which we originally had two campsites on that had horse corrals on it for our skijoring events in the winter. Stuff like that. Those two spots generated quite a lot of money," said Jimmy Campbell. "We sent them a five page contract, they sent us back a contract telling us when our RV park was going to be open, how many spaces we could have."

The town council informed both MacPherson and Jimmy Campbell that they had no intention of getting involved in a water rights dispute between the two parties. James requested that the Campbells and the MacPherson work together to come to an agreement as they continued the process of obtaining an RV park permit.

"What if we cannot come to an agreement? What if they keep trying to block us from our property?" asked Jimmy Campbell. "As long as we talk about ditches and breaches, I'm fine, but when they tell me I can't access my east property and I can't access my north property, they legally don't have the right to do that."

"Then I would say talk to your attorney," replied James.

While the Saratoga Town Council took no formal action, a public hearing for a special use permit for JaJaCa Properties will have been held at the March 9 Saratoga Planning Commission meeting.

The next meeting of the Saratoga Town Council is at 6 p.m. on March 16.

 

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