CHEYENNE – The County Commission board room filled with applause Thursday afternoon, as three of the five planning commissioners voted against the preliminary development plan for the second filing of the Bell Pasture subdivision.
Although the development plan will still move forward to the Board of County Commissioners next month, it will be met with forced reevaluation. The planning commissioners made no approval of the project north of Cheyenne, except in zoning changes for properties less than 10.01 acres.
Many members of the community who live in the area surrounding the proposed development near the intersection of Interstate 25 and Horse Creek Road attended the Planning Commission meeting to plead for “responsible development in the county.” Their primary concerns revolved around impacts on the aquifer, traffic, environmental and wildlife degradation and putting the consequences that will follow after development on the Wyoming taxpayer.
Georgia George, who addressed the Planning Commission Thursday, has lived in the county for more than 60 years, and said it was the first time she witnessed the commissioners acknowledge their concerns.
She looked them in the eyes and asked, “What are you going to do when there is no water?”
This was the question most asked during the meeting, as members of the community gave their remarks. Each resident came with a different perspective to the issue of water. As livestock ranchers, environmental engineers and simply water consumers, they stood together in unison to request the board’s attention.
Kyle Wendtland, a senior environmental engineer for more than 27 years, fought for the Planning Commission not to consider a decision based on expired science.
In 2014, the Wyoming State Engineer’s office released an order requiring the three-dimensional groundwater model and the prior order, which Laramie County bases its development plans on, be updated every three years. It was updated in 2017, with plans for another review to the model in 2020.
That requirement was not met, and it has been four years since the model received new data inputs. Wendtland says this puts the accuracy of the model in question, especially as there has been an explosion of development in Cheyenne since 2017, and the county is entering a drought cycle.
“When you spend an entire chapter of your county plan saying that we’re going to practice good water management and preservation of our water,” he said, “and you’re making decisions on an outdated model, that seems to be contrary.”
Wendtland was not the only resident to refer back to the engineer’s report for groundwater control, pushing back against the proposed development of 127 new homes on the lot.
Terrance Booth addressed the Planning Commission and pulled from page 37 of the hydrogeologic report, in which, “there are no years where inflow exceeds outflow, and on average outflows exceed inflows by 45,000 acre-feet per year over the 1993 to 2010 calibration period. Physically, this manifests in the water level declines that have been observed in places around the county.”
That was in 2014, and inflow has still never exceeded the outflow of water to the aquifer supporting developments by Horse Creek.
Steve True, a rancher near the proposed Bell Pasture subdivision, said he hated to follow the two documents presented before him. Regardless, he made his way to the microphone and asked the commission to consider a different perspective on water.
“I’m going to give you just a little cowboy math,” he said.
He described the thousands of gallons of water it takes in order to keep livestock healthy on a hot day, which could be up to 215,000 coming out of the well in the summer. This doesn’t account for the rest of the year, or the water usage coming individually from the interior of a home.
The commissioners continued to listen to the residents describe the consequences of development without a water resource plan for more than an hour and a half Thursday.
Bruce Perryman, who presented the preliminary development plan as the project manager for AVI Engineering, said he would relay the comments to the owner and developer. When he was invited back to address the commission and residents’ concerns, he rejected each compromise suggested.
Some of those were: the hydrologic study be updated this year and development reconsidered based on a new model; instead of five-acre properties, the developers decrease the number of homes and increase the lot sizes to 10 acres, or to have a trust fund be put in place for homeowners who experienced major financial loss when having to dig a deeper well due to water decreases in the aquifer.
Perryman said that whether there was one straw pulling water out of the aquifer or 127, the water source would still be the same. He was met with scoffs from the attending residents.
“Seems like all the rural residential benefits that everyone enjoys out there currently,” he said, “they don’t want the other new folks to enjoy.”
Elizabeth Lanier, another lifelong resident of Cheyenne, was adamant that wasn’t the case. She said she just wanted more consideration when it came to the resources and community being impacted by major development.
George, her sister, shared that opinion.
“There’s more to be considered here than money in somebody’s pocket,” George told the commission.
In the end, the Planning Commission listened.
Commissioners Bert Mercy, Dan Cooley and John Watkins were the only members in attendance and voted against approving the residential plan, even though they had approved a zone change for the property earlier in the meeting.
It’s now in the hands of county commissioners to decide whether 127 homes will be put in the Bell Pasture subdivision. They will consider it at their Sept. 21 meeting, which begins at 3:30 p.m. in the Commissioners’ Board Room of the Historic Laramie County Courthouse.
“You have a really tough decision to make today, you really do,” Wendtland said in his last remarks. “You can do the right thing.”