A planning commission had no authority to deny a company’s request to build a controversial gravel mine in southwestern Laramie County, Wyoming’s Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.
The court overturned the decision of the Laramie County Planning Commission to deny a site plan application submitted by a Colorado company wanting to develop a 15-acre quarry, saying that no zoning restrictions were ever put in place for the land in question.
“It is undisputed the county has not zoned the … property to restrict quarry operations,” said the opinion, written by Justice Lynne Boomgaarden. “Absent zoning, the (Planning) Commission cannot substitute public disapproval for legal authority to deny (the) proposed project.”
The ruling stems from efforts by Asphalt Specialities Co. Inc. to develop a 15-acre hard rock quarry on its 555 acres of land in southwestern Laramie County.
According to the ruling, the company in May 2018 filed an application for a site plan to develop the quarry. The land in question was never placed under any zoning restrictions that would prohibit such operations.
The ruling said the application was opposed by neighboring landowners who were concerned about items including increased traffic, dust and impacts on the area’s water resources that could result from the gravel mining operation.
Opponents of the plan attended an informal hearing in March 2018 and a formal hearing in July 2018, where “the public again expressed concerns and resistance,” the ruling said.
In October 2018, the commission rejected the application by a vote of 2-2, saying it did not adequately protect the health, safety and welfare of county residents and failed to support the community vision outlined in the Laramie County comprehensive plan.
ASCI appealed the decision, arguing the Laramie County Planning Commission exceeded its authority by denying its application when there were no restrictions in place on the land that would prohibit a quarry.
The county argued that its comprehensive land use plan set out guidance for county land use decisions that gave the planning commission the authority to reject the application.
But justices agreed that before the planning commission could deny ASCI’s application, the county must have placed the property under zoning restrictions that spell out how the land can be used.
“Only after a county has adopted zoning resolutions can it restrict a landowner from using land without obtaining a zoning certificate,” the ruling said.
The opinion noted that there was significant public opposition to ASCI’s plan.
“We recognize the commission was in a difficult position given the public’s vocal disapproval of ASCI’s proposed quarry,” it said. “Should the board of county commissioners pursue zoning, all county citizens and landowners can then be heard pursuant to (state law).”