Brian Shumard said he did his research and then took all the necessary legal steps in order to have his 23-lot subdivision between Cody and Powell approved by Park County.
“For me to have checked every one of those boxes, every one of those boxes are checked right now, now they’re drawing it out?” he questioned.
Shumard’s Buck Creek Estates major subdivision project will go back before the Park County commissioners at their meeting Sept. 20 for the fourth time in preliminary plat review.
The biggest criticism of the project by the public is that the quality and quantity of water in the project area would not be adequate enough to support 23 wells. Spencer George, a neighboring dairy farmer who has opposed the project, also cited possible resistance to future projects he would like to do on his property as another concern. If George desired to put a feedlot on his property it would require a special use permit, which would engage public input through the application process.
“But he’s there fighting me,” Shumard said.
The project has received massive pushback from those advocating for agricultural interests. Some of these people are outspoken, staunchly conservative members of the Republican party such as Carol Armstrong and Tim Lasseter, who argued the county needs to preserve its remaining agricultural land.
“I see a lot of these people battling against him that have talked property rights forever,” Shumard’s business partner and local real estate agent Donny Anderson said, “and now they’re saying he can’t do what he wants to do on his land.”
Armstrong said one person’s private property rights should not come at the expense of another’s.
“One man’s gain shouldn’t mean another man’s loss,” she said.
At their last meeting on Aug. 17, the commissioners voted to table making a decision on the project until Shumard could show results from a hydrological study proving wells would not overtax the water. He said he’ll show them results from a 1993 hydrological study performed on the land where the subdivision will be built. In addition to this study, Shumard will also drill two test wells himself.
“As long as it doesn’t hurt me dearly, I’m willing to do what I need to do to make them comfortable, as long as it’s within my rights,” he said.
Park County Commissioner Dossie Overfield said she would still not guarantee approval even if these tests show adequate results.
Although the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality already approved the project, its staff never made a visit to inspect the land.
Only a small portion of George’s land touches Shumard’s property, and Shumard said there are no farms downstream on Buck Creek from his proposed project.
The development will not be pulling water from the nearby Shoshone River.
“I’m not taking water sources from anybody else, it’s my water,” Shumard said.
Commissioner Lloyd Thiel, who has voiced trepidation about the project since it was brought forward, voted against the water study altogether, finding the subdivision flawed for its effects on agriculture.
“His job is to take the Park County planning and zoning (rules) and make sure everyone is fulfilling that,” Shumard said. “His job is not to say, ‘I’m against it.’”
Park County’s Land Use Plan is a document littered with vague rules and descriptions. There are rules in the plan that both support and oppose the Buck Creek Estates, but Shumard said a precedent has been set by numerous subdivisions getting approved in the past, giving him security to pursue his project.
“If I’ve watched … all of these guys when they’re breaking down ag-land get turned down, or all these subdivisions going in right now and getting turned down because they’re ag (zoned), I would have never brought it to do this,” he said.
The Land Use Plan will be updated in the coming year and the commissioners will be soliciting assistance from area committees to help to do so.
“Once that’s passed, that’s when precedents can be set,” Shumard said. “Precedents can’t be set after 22 years, two people complain, and two subdivisions.”
Shumard said the George family has done two simple subdivisions and “countless” family exemption land splits of their own, but these created smaller lots than what are proposed for Buck Creek.
Shumard credits the recent real estate boom as being a critical factor to Cody braving the COVID storm, lining the pockets of those in industries connected and many more indirectly connected to home development.
“The trickle down effect from real estate has been a savior,” he said.
Farming has been on a slow decline nationally for many years and as fewer and fewer generations of people decide to pursue it for a livelihood, more and more farmland inevitably gets sold off.
“I hate subdivisions,” said Park County Republican Party Chairman Martin Kimmet. “But for those farmers, at the end of the day, that’s their retirement.”
In Shumard’s opinion there’s plenty of unused farmland left in the county and he said just because the roughly 4-8-acre lots won’t be able to support traditional ranching and farming doesn’t mean they should be discounted for agricultural potential, with there still being a possibility for micro and hobby farming and ranching.
Many of these small-scale producers support local farmers markets. One of the biggest local producers, Shoshone River Farms, operates on 3.5 acres and utilizes multiple high tunnel hoop houses to grow produce.
“You don’t have to have 200 head of cows and 500 acres to be considered a farmer,” he said.
Shumard sees the commissioners’ demands as an attempt to prolong the application process and increase his costs. He said these elevated costs will then be passed on to the buyers. The county will pay no costs associated with the project as the subdivision will have a privately built road that connects to the Powell Highway.
Commissioner Lee Livingston expressed concern about a major subdivision in a rural area being harder to reach for emergency responders.
Shumard said growth along the entire Powell Highway corridor is inevitable, so it will serve the county’s interest to build where the pre-existing utilities are and in a consistent pattern rather than a patchwork of locations where agriculture is deemed not possible. Anderson said this type of growth actually makes it easier on emergency services.
“If it’s going to happen, why are we fighting it?” Shumard said.
Overfield did not agree with this logic.
“The county is at a pivotal point right now for how we decide we want to grow,” she said. “We need to take time to figure out how to do so.”
If the project is denied, Anderson said he would like to see neighbors that opposed the project place deed restrictions on their properties requiring agricultural use only going forward.
Shumard said he will pursue legal avenues if denial occurs.
“In the end, my property rights will win out,” he said.
(Zac Taylor contributed to this report)