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Magagna: Consider regulations, incentives simultaneously

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Large-acre subdivision bill headed to 2008 Budget Session

By Jennifer Womack, WLR Managing Editor

 Cheyenne – “While we share the concern over the sprawling rural subdivisions, we don’t believe a regulatory heavy hand is the way to address it,” says Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive (WSGA) Vice President Jim Magagna.
    Noting his group’s opposition to SF11 “Subdivisions-large acre parcels” in its current form, he notes, “I’m concerned that some counties would use legislation of this type in a way that would really interfere with private property rights.” The Wyoming Legislature’s Corporations Committee, which conducted an interim study on the topic, is sponsoring the legislation that will require a two-thirds vote for introduction when the 2008 Budget Session gets underway in Cheyenne on Feb. 11.
    Wyoming Farm Bureau’s Executive Vice President Ken Hamilton says his members are split on how the subject should be handled. Attesting to that fact were two highly debated and failed resolutions discussed at the group’s November convention. “I think it depends a little bit on where you are,” he says of the link between personal views and where people live.
    Because of that division in his membership he says, “It’s a sidelines issue for us. We’ve got members who are adamantly opposed to any changes and we’ve got members who are very strongly supportive that something needs to be done. But, I’m not sure we’re clear on what that ‘something’ should be.”
    “I like the fact that it moves developments like the B.B. Brooks from simple land sales to being a large acreage subdivision. This is at least accurate,” says Casper rancher Doug Cooper whose property borders the B.B. Brooks development. Cooper says he sees SF11 more as a consumer protection bill than as a land use regulation. Much of the bill deals with notifying potential purchasers of utility and infrastructure status on the land.
    Magagna says his group will offer some suggestions to make the bill less onerous. Mandatory family exemption, as compared to an exception at the discretion of the county commission as is currently put forth in the legislation, are among the proposals WSGA will be offering. “Because this legislation is really being driven by the large rural subdivisions, such as the B.B. Brooks development at Casper, we would like a significant exemption for the division of a smaller number of parcels.”
    While some landowners may have abused the family exemption over time, Magagna says, “All landowners shouldn’t have to pay the price for those who do abuse it.” Earlier this year members of the Joint Judiciary Committee heard from a Teton County couple unable to pass their ranch on to their children due to that county’s decision not to honor the family exemption currently in place statewide.
    Cooper applauds the legislation’s requirement that sales via contract for deed be recorded with local officials. He’d like to see the legislation go one step further and prohibit the use of contracts for deed in Wyoming. “Presently,” explains Cooper, “developers can take the land back as easily as a breach of contract and avoid the delays and cost of foreclosure. A landowner selling land could still finance a sale, but there would be a change of title.”
    “The next step,” says Cooper, “would be to take large acre developments and make them ineligible for agricultural taxes. Once they have to notify the county that they are proposing a large acre subdivision, then that change should be used to tax them for what business they are actually doing. I cannot understand why developers can sell land and only pay agricultural property taxes. Changing the tax status should be one of the risks in developing land.”
    Cooper sees the bill’s weakest point as its optional use by the county commissioners. Commissions may adopt regulations, but aren’t required to do so.
    Magagna would like to see the regulatory approach move forward in unison with an incentive-based method. “Joint Corporation,” he says, “had a bill that provided incentives for cluster development or higher density development.” The committee set the legislation aside citing the need for additional work. “I don’t disagree with them, but maybe that bill ought to come before, or at least hand-in-hand, with considering regulatory controls like the bill they are going forward with. It doesn’t make sense to move forward with a regulatory approach while delaying an incentive-driven approach.”
    Also along the lines of incentive-based approaches Magagna says, “We would be willing to look at some types of impact fees that are accompanied with waivers if you do certain things that are desirable.” Designs associated with increased public costs would be taxed accordingly and those that reduced demands on the tax coffers would be awarded with lower fees.
    “Although the committee has done a lot of very good work last year and this year,” says Magagna, “we still don’t have the total package we need to have before we move forward with changes to subdivision laws. I’d encourage they do not move with this bill this year and continue this work.”

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