County to consider letter on private school zoning bill

January 15, 2019

On Tuesday, the Teton County Board of County Commissioners will consider sending a letter to Wyoming legislators opposing state pre-emption of county zoning authority.

The drafting of the letter follows news that Sen. Mike Gierau, D-Teton, plans to co-sponsor a bill that would strip counties’ zoning authority over private schools.

The bill — Senate File 49 — was filed in the Wyoming Legislature amid a local fight over Jackson Hole Classical Academy’s plans to build a new school south of town, which has riled neighbors who fear a campus would threaten rural character.

Gierau said he decided to support the bill to relieve overcrowding in Teton County’s public schools, allow for educational choices and because he feels the local planning process has been “hijacked” by opponents of the academy’s plans.

“I think I’m doing it in the best interest of all the citizens of Teton County and all my constituents, because I got elected to represent everybody,” Gierau said.

He added he is still hopeful that the Classical Academy can work out a plan for a school through Teton County’s planning process and the bill won’t be necessary.

“I am still hopeful that this decision can be decided locally and that in some way or fashion some accommodation could be reached,” he said.

The proposal would rewrite state law to prohibit counties from zoning that restricts “the location, use or occupancy of a private school,” if the school is sited on a property of 35 acres or more and serves 50 students or more.

Commission Chairwoman Natalia Macker hopes a letter will explain the board’s concerns about taking away local control, with a focus on the zoning authority that state statutes grant to counties, as well as highlight the “complexity of the process and components that go into zoning decisions generally, which are very localized.”

Several members of the public showed up to the county’s Monday morning meeting worrying about the zoning bill.

“With limited exception, I have always believed in local rule, the more local, the better,” planning commissioner Glen Esnard said. “Decisions made at the tip of the spear are better than those made at a distance.” He called the bill “a power grab of our state for the singular benefit of those who disagree with our local regulations and local officials.”

The commissioners meet at 9 a.m. Tuesday. The bill has been referred to the state Senate committee on education.