A Crandall lodge is being accused of violating county zoning regulations for more than two years. Now the Park County Commissioners is seeking retribution to the tune of at least $635,250.
“It’s a pretty pivotal case for Park County,” said Joy Hill, county planning and zoning director. “There’s a lot of people in the public watching this particular item with concern – and not a happy concern.”
On July 16 the commissioners unanimously approved commissioner Joe Tilden’s motion to penalize Beartooth Lodge, owned by Richard “Zig” and Mallie Zickefoose. The Zickefooses will receive a $750 a day penalty from when their infractions were originally cited by the commissioners and county planning and zoning staff on March 21, 2017, for having too many rental cabins at their bed and breakfast business.
“We’re all pretty much aware of what’s going on,” commissioner Lloyd Thiel said. “I think that we get the ball rolling right now and assess these fines.”
District attorney Bryan Skoric has also filed a case in civil court asking for a court order to halt the violations.
The Zickefooses denied four allegations in a submitted answer to the commissioners’ court filing.
A tangled web
In October 2016 former P&Z director Linda Gillett notified the Zickefooses they were illegally operating a highway commercial business, an operation not permitted in the GR-5 zoned district that Beartooth Lodge falls in.
In early 2017 the couple appealed the decision to the commissioners but by early spring that year the board upheld Gillett’s decision.
The couple then appealed the commissioners’ decision in Park County District Court, but in the early part of this year Judge Bill Simpson ruled against Beartooth Lodge. After briefly sending an appeal to the Wyoming Supreme Court, the Zickefooses voluntarily moved to dismiss the case from the state’s highest legal body.
Through trial and litigation all that has remained constant is the county’s position on the issue and the Lodge’s refusal to change their operation.
“I feel like we’ve already been down that road,” Thiel said.
Bed and Breakfast or hotel-motel?
The Zickefooses contend their business operation is considered a bed and breakfast and they were given a permit to run this exact operation from the county in 2012.
One year earlier they had applied for a permit to rent two cabins, but were only granted the right to run a small personal sawmill business from that application. Although county documents never state the cabins could not be rented, they also never granted such use.
“I don’t know that we have to say yes or no to any particular thing,” Hill said. “I just know that we have in fact given a permit for, that’s documentation for what we’re saying yes to.”
In court documents the Zickefooses alleged they were verbally given approval to rent at this time.
“(It’s) basically like his interpretation of what was permitted compared to what is actually permitted,” said Patti Umphlett, a Park County planner. “It would say on their (application) if they were permitted.”
In 2012, when they applied to have their main lodge and two other cabins fall under the bed and breakfast designation, it appears the county only established the designation to a main lodge and one accessory rental housing unit.
But according to court documents Zig said he had been verbally told by a former county planner he could rent out the two cabins.
As such, Beartooth Lodge currently offers three cabins for rent outside of the main lodge – the Bear Cave, Fishing and Trapper cabins. The Bear Cave cabin was grandfathered in because it was built before the county’s zoning regulations were created, leaving only the Trapper or Fishing cabin available for commercial rental use under the county’s bed and breakfast designation.
“It’s not that he can’t operate a business, it’s just that he can’t operate a business as he is currently operating it,” Hill said.
Since the Zickefooses have refused to shutter either of those two cabins, the county contends the business is being run as a highway commercial business which is considered, “A business that provides a substantial portion of its goods and services to tourists and travelers, including motels, hotels, restaurants.”
“Our (regulations), it’s hard to be black and white because you have those outliers that don’t fit into categories so what do you do with them?” Hill said. “We just do our best with them to make them fit evenly.”
The county defines bed and breakfast as, “An owner-occupied, single family dwelling where short-term lodging is provided through the rental of no more than four individual rooms to the general public.”
With only two rooms available for rental in their main lodge and one room apiece in each of the cabins the Zickefooses do appear to meet the four-room quota, but may not meet code in regards to the phrase “single family dwelling.”
“That’s a huge part of that definition,” Hill said.
Making an example?
With the Zickefooses making no moves to come into compliance as the county sees it, the county is assessing a fine that may never be paid, but the commissioners still feel necessary.
“I just feel like this thing has been kicked down the road long enough,” Thiel said.
County planning and zoning staff have refused to speculate as to what will happen next in District Court, as the ball is now in Judge Simpson’s hands.
“What happens then, that’s in the court of the county attorney and the commissioners as far as how you proceed,” Hill said.
The county will be hosting a series of five public meetings later this month where it will address the issue of short-term rentals and a possible increase in regulation.
“We have a number of people in the county who have been complaining about them,” Hill said. “Was this (Beartooth Lodge) the source? I couldn’t answer that. I just know it was already an issue over a year ago and we’re just carrying through.”
Although a range of options will be presented to the public the county has produced a document filled with suggested changes on the issue. Among the possible changes could be a much stricter definition to accessory housing unit, short-term rentals, guesthouse designations and an altogether elimination to “bed and breakfast” and “dwelling” verbiage.
“Right now nothing could change or we could see a full revamping of the whole – anything related to lodging,” Hill said.