Lander: A Microcosm Of Wyoming’s Growing Pains

Like many cities and towns across Wyoming, Lander residents are choosing up sides when it comes to zoning changes proposed for their communities.

Bill Sniffin

September 04, 20209 min read

(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

LANDER – Hundreds of citizens in this western town have risen up in protest because they believe their leaders have chosen the wrong path regulating growth.

Like so many cities and towns across Wyoming, Lander residents are choosing up sides when it comes to zoning changes proposed for their communities.

The city’s newest plans would allow smaller dwellings and more people packed onto the same amount of space than the rules currently in place.

City officials all over the Cowboy State are struggling with efforts to balance the need for affordable housing against protecting the highly-prized unique attributes of their individual communities. 

In a nutshell, the Lander plan would involve allowing many new types of housing in different zones of the city, which opponents believe would clog parking and reduce property values. 

More than 200 people crowded into the Lander Community Center Tuesday night to protest the proposed changes. By virtue of the applause, it appeared the vast majority of those in attendance were not in favor of the city’s proposal. 

So, why make the changes?  The reasoning behind the new plan, according to a release from the city, is based on four conclusions from a survey. 

  1. Young adults struggle to have income for housing, so leave Lander.
  2. Couples with ‘grown and flown’ children want smaller homes on smaller lots.
  3. Businesses can’t attract desired workforce due to housing costs.
  4. Aging parents want to live independently, yet close by for assistance when needed.” 

Judy Legerski is one of the leaders opposed to the changes.

“Lander is, and has been for many years, a great place to live.  Our trees, yards, and neighborhoods are the envy of other Wyoming communities, she said.

Legerski, with the help of others, found 500 Lander citizens willing to sign their names to an ad asking the city council to drop the plan or table it.

Lander native Joe Kenney who owns the local radio stations aired an editorial opposed to the city’s proposals.

“The citizens of Lander need to realize what these new rules will do to the character of our community,” Kenney said. “If you live anywhere but in the R-1 Zone, your neighbor could turn their single-family property into a multi-family property by turning their basement into an apartment, their garage into an apartment, and adding what is called an ADU in their backyard. An ADU is an Accessory Dwelling Unit. You could have four families next to you instead of one.”

“Or, if there’s a good-sized lot in your neighborhood, something called a Cottage Cluster could spring up with as many as 16 small cottages, all clustered together ten feet apart,” he said.

“These are just a couple of examples of what is in this 110-page document.  They (the city) have already admitted that the survey they are basing these drastic changes on was flawed and unscientific, and have refused an offer for a scientific study to be done and paid for by private parties.” 

“This is not an emergency. The City Council should table this unpopular ordinance until it can be adequately discussed in public with as many people in attendance as possible,” Kenney said in the editorial.

Legerski echoed Kenney’s sentiments.

“The citizens of Lander love and respect their community as it is,” she said.  “They are obviously not ready for massive changes in its culture.  We are fortunate to live with people who care about their lifestyle.”

Several people at the meeting brought up the fact that Lander receives more than 100 inches of snow each winter. Icy and snow-packed streets would exacerbate parking issues with additional vehicles on the streets, under the new plan, they reminded the city officials. 

Earlier the city had circulated a brochure that outlined the reasons the city council and its planning commission were strongly considering initiating these changes. Here is an abbreviated version of the brochure:

Lander Code and Zoning FAQ’s June 2020 – Why are these being proposed? 

  1. The Lander City Master Plan of 2012 The 2012 Master plan was performed with a planning grant by DOWL/HKM. Along with current engineering and planning standards, input from several public forums and subject focus groups was used to create the action plan. City Council adopted the plan in the fall of 2012. The Master Plan has 5 action items regarding infill development, developing a zoning plan that promotes graduated densities, and expanding residential opportunities in all zones and income levels. 
  2. There are several existing homes that– if something happened to them– could not be rebuilt due to current code requirements. They are non-conforming mostly due to lot size not meeting minimum requirements. 
  3. In a public forum in December 2019, Lander residents noted that housing (rent and purchase of single-family homes) was increasingly challenging for both cost and range of options. The issues most commonly noted included: 
  4. In the last three years, several developers have proposed plans to build single-family homes at more affordable price plans, but their plans didn’t conform to code– such as having 5,000 square ft lots– and were denied. Modest changes to lot size would benefit landowner wanting to sell as land price is higher; better for the developer, who can build more efficiently; provides more options at varied price points for interested homebuyers. 

(Note: Lot sizes are referenced often in proposed changes. To help understand what different lot sizes are: lots in most zones are currently required to be 6,000 sq ft.) 

When were codes last updated? – The current zoning code was done in 1978. The last subdivision code was done in 2008. What is being proposed are changes to zoning codes, not building codes. All new structures are still required to meet the building codes adopted by the City of Lander. 

How were proposed changes developed? – In September 2018, an eight-person team of Lander staff, Lander Chamber, and Lander residents (including members of Lander Planning Commission) attended a two-day housing workshop with nine other Wyoming communities. In 2019, the State provided grant funds for a small, medium, and large Wyoming towns to review codes in hopes that other small, medium, and large towns could use information learned to apply to their communities. Lander was selected as the medium town. 

Most notably, workshop participants expressed interest in; 

  • Allowing for more flexibility in housing choices and offering a larger array of housing types and price points in Lander, especially housing types that fit the context and character of existing neighborhoods. 
  • Allowing for smaller homes to be built on smaller lots in Lander. 
  • Accessory dwelling units received strong support, especially as a housing option that provides extra income and housing stability for existing homeowners in Lander. 

Using the community feedback provided by the survey and workshop, the team met weekly to incorporate stated goals through proposed changes to Lander’s code. The proposed changes were presented to the Planning Commission, composed of seven Lander-area residents. After approval by the Planning Commission, the proposed changes were forwarded to Council for review and adoption. 

Does this eliminate single family homes in R1? – No. Proposed changes allow for slightly increased density in R1 through allowing ADUs (see below). Proposed changes don’t allow apartment buildings in R1. Minimum lot size remains the same in R1. 

What is an “ADU”?  – An ADU is an Additional Dwelling Unit, such as a basement apartment or “in-law” space above a garage. These already exist in Lander. ADUs are not eligible to be subdivided and sold as separate property. ADUs can be desirable as an additional income source for homeowners. Allowing ADUs means that existing homeowners would have the option to build an ADU should they choose. 

If my neighbor builds an ADU, will it affect my property value? 

 Generally, property values in Wyoming are determined by size, construction type and quality of construction in a specific area. 

What is a “cottage cluster”?  

A cottage cluster refers to a group of homes on permanent foundation, with small personal yards and a shared common green space. Homes may be small but are not “tiny homes” (meaning small homes built on a mobile platform). Homes in cottage clusters require the same setbacks to lot lines as current codes for single family homes.

Will density change?  

In developed residential areas, there is potential for change over time if homeowners decide to build ADUs. On larger single lots or contiguous lots, landowners have the option of building slightly more dense apartments or single-family homes. 

How do parking requirements change?  For Main Street, this will allow a more historic presence as seen in 1st-4th blocks. Buildings can be close to the sidewalk, encouraging more pedestrian “window-shopping,” and increasing the feel of “Main Street” instead of a highway. 

In neighborhoods, this may slightly increase on-street parking. Residents who want the convenience of parking immediately in front of their house can create driveways/parking pads on their property. Residents do not own the street in front of their property. 

Does this result in tiny lots in town?  

No. Lots are still required to ‘abut and have access to an officially approved street.” Alley accessed dwellings can’t be split from the main property. 

Does this mean a huge apartment building complex will be built next to my house? 

Highly unlikely. In R5, the highest density area, multi-family housing requires a minimum of 925 ft2/unit on interior lots and 625 ft2/unit for corner lots. In R2, a multi-family unit requires 1,875 square feet per dwelling unit. 

How do parking requirements change? 

Not requiring as much parking for commercial zones will allow for more traditional Main Street buildings as seen in the 100-400 block of Main. In residential zones, there may be a slight increase in on-street parking. 

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Bill Sniffin

Wyoming Life Columnist

Columnist, author, and journalist Bill Sniffin writes about Wyoming life on Cowboy State Daily -- the state's most-read news publication.