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Property By Casper Aquifer Rezoned For Commercial Use

Bern Hinckley

On Tuesday, Dec. 7, Albany County Commissioners voted 2 - 1 to change the zoning on a piece of land near the Casper Aquifer Protection Overlay Zone (APOZ) from residential to commercial.

The land is owned by Laramie man Luke Sweckard. It's on the western edge of the APOZ.

Nearly 100 people came to the meeting, most of whom testified against the change. The overall concern was the possibility of contaminants getting into the drinking water. Certain commercial activities are prohibited in the APOZ to protect the aquifer - but they're not prohibited outside of the zone, even on the edge. Some say the boundary is drawn incorrectly and commercial activities on the property could put the aquifer at risk.

Commissioner Pete Gosar sympathized with their concerns, as the only opposing vote.

"I don't think we did our due diligence on that. Right now, as it stands, a gas station could be put on the rezone property from Tuesday's meeting," Gosar said.

Commissioner Heber Richardson did vote for the change. He said it was an emotional issue that came down to a simple question of the rule of law.

"I mean, I understand everyone's sentiments, and I know why they feel that way. And I may agree with them, and I may not agree with them. But there's the rule of law and I'm the arbiter of that in the case. I can't apply APOZ rules to a property that lies outside it," Richardson said.

The historical APOZ boundary runs through a corner of the six-acre lot, but many contend the boundary should be drawn a little over halfway through it due to new geological findings.

If the boundaries are redrawn according to geological findings after the land has been developed, whatever was there would be grandfathered as a previous use, even if it was a nonconforming use.

The commissioners expect the decision will be challenged in district court.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Ivy Engel, at iengel@uwyo.edu.

Ivy started as a science news intern in the summer of 2019 and has been hooked on broadcast ever since. Her internship was supported by the Wyoming EPSCoR Summer Science Journalism Internship program. In the spring of 2020, she virtually graduated from the University of Wyoming with a B.S. in biology with minors in journalism and business. When she’s not writing for WPR, she enjoys baking, reading, playing with her dog, and caring for her many plants.
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