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Conservation Toolkit|U.S. Forest Service | Environment and Natural Resources

Overview of Wyoming Land-Use Planning Laws and County Regulations

History of Land Use Regulations in Wyoming

Comprehensive Plan/Land Use Plan
In 1975, the Wyoming Legislature enacted the State Land Use Planning Act (WS 9-8-101 through 9-8-302), which mandates the preparation and adoption of local land use plans. It defines a comprehensive plan as consisting of maps, policies, goals, and actions, as well as providing a blueprint or vision for how a community or region should grow. The adoption of implementation techniques, such as zoning, remains voluntary.

The Wyoming State Statutes 18-5-101 through 18-5-315 (annotated 1997 edition) give counties the authority to conduct land use planning programs and to establish planning commissions, prepare land use plans, and adopt zoning ordinances. Wyoming State Statutes 15-1-501 through 15-1-611 provide towns and cities the authority to conduct land use planning programs and to establish planning commissions, prepare land use plans, and adopt zoning ordinances.

The State Land Use Planning Act requires counties to coordinate planning efforts and stipulates that any countywide land use plan should also incorporate the plans of its cities and towns. As required by law, all 23 Wyoming counties have adopted a county comprehensive plan or land use plan.

Zoning
While counties have the authority to adopt zoning ordinances, zoning is not required. Six of the 23 counties within Wyoming do not have zoning regulations. Zoning regulations may be countywide or partial.

Counties can establish a range of “zones,” including agriculture, residential, recreational, commercial, industrial, resource conservation, scenic/historic, and rural-mixed. Additionally, counties often adopt overlay zones, such as a floodplain overlay zone, with additional criteria. In each zoning district, specific land uses are permitted, conditionally permitted, or prohibited. Each zoning district also has its own standards for lot size, density, lot coverage, building height, number of stories, and setbacks.

Changes to the zoning ordinance text or map requires a process that typically includes a pre-application meeting, planning and zoning commission review and action, and board of county commissioners review and action. The required findings for a zoning ordinance change can vary by county and may include criteria such as availability of adequate public services, availability of water, or effects on neighboring properties.

Subdivision Regulations
The 1975 Wyoming Real Estate Subdivision Act requires subdivision regulations in every county and specifies minimum standards. The law requires a subdivision permit before dividing a parcel of land into more than two pieces. This requirement does not apply to division that results in parcels 35 acres or larger or to land sold for agricultural purposes. Later, exemptions were added for a number of property divisions including for the sale or gift to family members of a minimum of 5 acres. Counties are allowed to grant exemption to any proposed division of property into five or fewer parcels from subdivision requirements. In 2008, the statute was amended to allow counties to require a permit for subdivisions that create parcels from 35 to 140 acres. The new statute does not apply to parcels recorded before July 1, 2008, which may be divided into ten parcels between 35 and 140 acres without being subject to subdivision regulation review.

The subdivision review process typically includes a pre-application meeting with county staff, planning commission review and action, and county board of commissioners review and action. Public hearing requirements vary by county. Some counties have different procedures for “simple,” “minor,” and “major” subdivisions. The simple subdivisions may be required to submit only a sketch plan rather than a preliminary plat.

A “simple” subdivision is generally defined as one that divides a parcel into two parcels, each less than 35 acres. Procedural requirements are often more straightforward than larger land divisions and may include a pre-application meeting with county staff, a sketch plan, planning commission review of the sketch plan, and county board of commissioners action on the final plat. Public hearing requirements vary by county.

A “minor” subdivision is generally defined as one that divides a parcel into not more than five lots, with each lot smaller than 35 acres. The procedural requirements for these subdivisions often include a pre-application meeting with county staff, a sketch plan, planning commission review of the sketch plan, and county board of commissioners action on the final plat. Public hearing requirements vary by county.

A “major” subdivision is generally defined as one that divides a parcel into six or more lots, each smaller than 35 acres. The procedural requirements include a sketch plan review, preliminary plat review, and final plat review.

The required findings for a subdivision vary by county and may include criteria such as consistency with county land use planning and zoning regulations and availability of adequate public services; availability of water or effects on neighboring properties; and effects on agricultural water rights or scenic resources, wildlife, and fisheries, among other criteria.

In 2009, Wyoming State Statute 18-5-318 legally “separated” agricultural land of 35 acres or more, located within a platted subdivision, from that subdivision for tax purposes. Wyoming State Statute 18-5-401 through 18-5-403 gives each board of county commissioners the authority to oversee the conservation design process, including cluster development and density bonuses. Cluster development applies to land division that creates parcels 35 acres or less in size that have no more than one residential unit per 17.5 acres; cluster developments also set two-thirds of the parcels aside for the preservation of open space. The portion of the land reserved for open space must be designated as such for 65 years or more.

A density bonus is an incentive-based planning implementation tool that permits developers to increase the maximum allowable development on a property in exchange for helping a local jurisdiction achieve certain public policy goals. In Wyoming, density bonus has been specified as a means for counties to protect wildlife habitat and enhance and maintain the rural character of farming and ranching lands throughout the state. Specifically, under Wyoming State Statute 18-5- 402, a(iii), “Density bonus” allows for “a gross overall density of two (2) or more residential units for each thirty-five (35) acres.”

Conservation design processes involving cluster development and density bonus specifications are approved as cluster development permits from the board of county commissioners. State statute also requires that the State Engineer’s Office also be notified of all county-approved cluster development plans.

Statutes
Wyoming Statutes pertaining to land use planning are found in:

  • Title 9 Administration of the Government and State Affairs, Chapter 8 Land Use Planning;
  • Title 15 Cities and Towns, Chapter 1 General Provisions, Article 5 Planning and Article 6 Zoning; and
  • Title 18 Counties, Chapter 5 Planning and Zoning, Article 1 County Planning Commission, Article 2 Planning and Zoning Commission, Article 3 Real Estate Subdivisions, Article 4 Conservation Design Process.

 

Wyoming Statutes are available online at: http://legisweb.state.wy.us/titles/statutes.htm.

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