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.
As in cities and towns across Wyoming, Lander residents are choosing up sides when it comes to zoning changes proposed for their communities.
Lander’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 on a recent 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. Those conclusions are: “Young adults struggle to have income for housing, so leave Lander; couples with ‘grown and flown’ children want smaller homes on smaller lots; businesses can’t attract desired workforce due to housing costs; and aging parents want to live independently, yet close by for assistance when needed.”
Judy Legerski is one of the community leaders opposed to the changes. She says: “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.”
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. He said:
“The citizens of Lander need to realize what these new rules will do to the character of our community. 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,” he said.
He continued: “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. And 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.”
Kenney wrapped up his editorial with: “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.”
Legerski echoed Kenney’s sentiments by saying: “The citizens of Lander love and respect their community as it is. 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.
Like so many cities and towns in Wyoming right now, prices for homes have skyrocketed. One Cody realtor said it was the best year he had ever seen.
As prices go up, the opportunities for young people or under-employed people to purchase their own homes is diminishing. Thus, the trend for alternatives. In Lander’s case, it involves a number of options including increasing rental possibilities, opening up opportunities for tiny homes, and clusters of small housing units.
Lander is not alone in these struggles. But it may be at the forefront since it received a federal grant to explore such possibilities last year.
From one end of Wyoming to the other, new forms of housing are being developed. This can be an opportunity for first time home buyers and the under-employed, but they can be a headache for local zoning boards.