JACKSON, Wyo. - Jackson officials thought they were in the clear when they adopted the town's new zoning master plan in November.
They had spent an agonizing three years
writing and revising the document. A small army of consultants and
lawyers finally sanctioned it. Thousands of hours of public
hearings had been logged. At the final hearing before adoption,
hardly a whimper of protest was heard.
officials did not anticipate was the cunning of developer Jere
Bishop. Bishop owns nine acres of prime undeveloped West Jackson
commercial property. The new plan would downzone the land,
shrinking the size of the massive hotel and restaurant complex
Bishop hoped to build there.
But Bishop unearthed
an obscure provision in Wyoming law that threatens the plan. For
now, the new zoning scheme has been suspended, pending a vote by
town residents Jan. 31.
Bishop made use of a
provision in the state elections code that allows for 10 percent of
registered voters to suspend government decisions by petition. If
the petition is deemed valid, the government ruling is brought
before the public in a special election.
signatures, Bishop and a group of volunteers wielded their petition
outside key locations like the local Albertson's supermarket. They
approached residents asking: "Wouldn't you like to have a chance to
vote on the new comprehensive plan?"
say no? By the 10-day petition deadline, Bishop had amassed 781
signatures - well above the 10 percent mark he needed for a valid
The petition and suspension of
the plan makes town councilman Abe Tabatabai furious. A former
planning commissioner who worked on the earliest drafts of the
plan, Tabatabai says the petition misrepresented the
"I want to tell you about my
disappointment," he says. "It's not because of the thousands of
hours we spent on the plan. It's because of the way I think the
petition was presented to the public."
Tabatabai says, the election might "not be a true reflection of
what the community wants." He notes that officials entered into the
master-planning process because of widespread pro-planning
sentiment three years ago.
Other town officials
did what they could to dismantle Bishop's efforts. Town
Administrator Bill Westbrook found his own arcane statute for
disqualifying public petitions: Wyoming law holds that the town
administrator has final say over whether a petition is
Westbrook delayed validating the
petition for two weeks. Though many more than the needed 456
residents had signed the mandate, most had listed their mailing
addresses. Technically, registered voters must use their
residential addresses on petitions, Westbrook
Until the special election, the town will
abide by its former, less-restrictive regulations. This has meant
yet another waiting game for developers who were prepared to bring
their projects in under the new zoning laws.
major feature of the plan confines lodging projects to an area
downtown (Bishop's land was not included in that area). The plan
also limits the size and extent of commercial developments,
prohibits large condo buildings from some residential zones and
provides a fee in lieu of building a parking structure for downtown
The writer works for the