May 14, 2015

County orders Ralston man to move shop, then backs off

Move it or lose it — or maybe never mind.

After directing a Ralston man to either move his shop 15 feet or face legal action, Park County commissioners now may change the regulation he’s violating.

County commissioners ruled last month that Tom McCauley’s 40-by-60-foot shop was built too close to the alley that runs between Bridger Avenue and Lane 11 in Ralston. County regulations require structures to be at least 20 feet from county roads — which includes alleyways — and McCauley’s building is only around five feet back.
This Ralston shop is too close to the alley under current Park County regulations. Photo by CJ Baker

“The structure must be moved within 30 days,” explained Commissioner Loren Grosskopf after a unanimous April 21 vote.

“Or it will be referred to the county attorney,” finished Commission Chairman Joe Tilden.

However, earlier this month, the county extended McCauley’s deadline by 60 days because officials are considering changing the regulations to require only five-foot setbacks from rural alleys.
If that happens, “he’ll still have to come to us to ask us for a variance, but I’ll certainly give it to him,” Tilden said Friday.

It’s a significant change in tone from last month’s meeting, which appeared to be the final word on the violation that was noticed years ago by planning and zoning staff.

County Planning Director Linda Gillett issued a formal notice of violation in March and McCauley appealed to commissioners, arguing in part that the county’s 20-foot setback requirements are unreasonable for small lots.

“It’s like, if we’re going to have regs, are we going to enforce them or not?”
said Commissioner Tim French.

At the hearing, Commissioner Tim French said the county might need to reconsider whether a 20-foot setback is too much for an alleyway. (For comparison, detached structures must be set back five feet from alleys in the City of Cody and 15 feet in Powell.)

“But what’s happened here is there’s individuals that wanted to build right close to the alley and we told them no, there’s a setback,” French said, adding, “A lot of people are like, ‘That’s baloney he can do that’ and ‘I played by the rules and he didn’t.’”

He said the issue has created “a lot of heartburn” among different people.

“It’s like, if we’re going to have regs, are we going to enforce them or not?” French asked rhetorically.

McCauley, however, noted there are several other structures well within 20 feet of the alley — some even closer than his.

“I don’t understand (why) it’s OK for everybody else to build stuff two feet off of the land, but it’s not OK for me,” McCauley said.

The county allowed one property owner to build just 10 feet off the alley because of a lack of room, but Gillett said most of the other offending outbuildings appear to have been constructed before the zoning regulations took effect in 2000.

“I can’t say this never happened,” she said. “It has been happening in Ralston.”

Ralston was originally laid out as a town, but has never become one — explaining why it has generally undeveloped alleyways.

“I don’t understand (why) it’s OK for everybody else to build stuff two feet off of the land, but it’s not OK for me,” McCauley said.

McCauley’s appeal was undercut in commissioners’ minds by the fact he signed off on a building permit specifically showing that the shop would be built 20 feet off the alley.

“I didn’t realize I had to abide by every inch of that, I guess,” McCauley explained. He said he provided the permit to his contractor and it seemed logical when they built the new structure in the same spot as an old garage that had preceded it.

“It’s my fault that it got built there. I don’t know what else to say,” McCauley said.

Tilden said at the hearing that part of what bothered him is that McCauley has had years of trouble with the county’s zoning regulations in connection with a trucking business he runs on the property.

“So now here we are after letter, after letter, after letter, and listened to complaint after complaint,” Tilden said. Commissioners’ resolution on the subject, signed later, said the record showed a series of complaints and violations dating back to spring 2010 which was “evidence of disregard for the regulations.”

McCauley said some of the complaints about his business are “B.S.” and that he would have spoken with commissioners at any time.

The county will consider changes to its regulations in July.

The alterations to the county’s setback regulations, along with other proposed changes, are scheduled to be considered by the Planning and Zoning Commission on July 14. Commissioners are tentatively scheduled to consider the revised regulations on July 21.


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