A dispute regarding the Yellowstone Cutthroat Guest Ranch’s Wapiti Valley Songwriter Festival will soon be coming before the Park County commissioners.
The issue surrounds whether Cutthroat’s owners, Randel and Courtney Hooper, were allowed to host their music festival each of the past two years.
The Wapiti business could be fined as much as $750 per day of the infraction if found guilty. They will come before the commissioners on Oct. 6 to discuss the issue.
Joy Hill, Park County planning and zoning director, said the special use permit granted to the Hoopers in 2018 to run their business does not permit them to host an event like a public music festival.
In the verbiage of their SUP, what is specifically allowed is “special events such as weddings, family reunions.”
“In short, weddings are not open to the general public. The multi-day festival was advertised and tickets were sold,” Hill said in an email.
After the county notified the Hoopers about their festival in 2019, Courtney Hooper said she thought all discrepancies were cleared up on the matter by removing camping, RV use and outside vendors from the event.
“All the concerns that Joy Hill had last year we didn’t repeat,” Courtney Hooper said. “We weren’t trying to sneak it by.”
The Hoopers publicized their second festival on Facebook and put up posters advertising the event around Cody.
But Hill said the county told the Hoopers after the first event that all outdoor amplified entertainment is not permitted unless it is one of the county’s defined special events. Courtney Hooper said their festival should be designated under this category.
“(A special event is) something that doesn’t happen so often,” Courtney Hooper said. “I don’t want somebody’s interpretation, I want the law.”
The Hoopers have retained legal counsel for this matter.
“It’s gone a little farther than what needs to be,” Courtney Hooper said. “It’s just really frustrating that it’s gone this far.”
Hill said certain neighbors have complained to the county about Cutthroat. One letter sent to the county also accuses the Hoopers of shooting off fireworks illegally.
“They’re feeling threatened and concerned for themselves and property,” Hill said. “They started saying they weren’t going to do these things. The owners turned around and do things they said they weren’t going to do.”
When the Hoopers first applied for their SUP in early 2018 there was some strong backlash for their business among the neighborhood. However that dissipated when they came to a compromise with the neighbors to invoke some sound and noise-reducing measures, including no outdoor bands. However, Courtney Hooper said they have had single-artist acoustic acts play outdoors on a regular basis.
“We’ve always been very considerate to be done early,” she said. “It’s not some rambunctious crazy bar scene out here.
“We’ve tried really hard to be good neighbors.”
Courtney Hooper said their SUP was written incorrectly in that no outdoor amplified entertainment is permitted. When it was first granted, it was her understanding it was allowed until 10 p.m., because of the wording of a particular condition in the SUP that reads, “Hours of Operation are from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. with quiet hours (no amplified entertainment audible to neighbors) after 10 p.m.”
However the next condition in the SUP specifically says outdoor amplified entertainment is not allowed unless the festival is one of the county’s defined special events.
Since learning of the outdoor music prohibition the Hoopers have ceased all outdoor music.
Hill sent an initial letter about infractions to the Hoopers in September 2019, and also said in a different letter that the Hoopers requested a new SUP application in December 2019, but nothing was ever submitted to the county.
In the September letter, Hill mentions the Hoopers need to get a new SUP or SUP amendment in order to host the festival again and criticized how much the event had been advertised. She said the festival “exceeded the type of event that we would compare to a wedding or family reunion,” events where outdoor amplified entertainment would be allowed under the SUP.
On July 30, Hill sent a letter to the Hoopers warning them to not host their music festival. But Courtney Hooper said they did not receive this letter until after their festival occurred from Aug. 6-8.
The Hoopers have now submitted a SUP amendment request to allow for outdoor amplified entertainment so long as the maximum volume does not exceed 70 decibels at the property line. This amendment will be heard at an Oct. 20 commissioner meeting.
“We’ve never been that loud,” Courtney Hooper said.
Hill said SUP amendments are “generally” rare, and this will be the first submitted to the county in the last two years.
She said the Hoopers could also have filed an SUP application to host their musical festival as well.
Hill said the Beartooth Music Festival in Clark was also illegally held in 2019 without necessary permitting. There was no 2020 festival due to COVID-19 concerns. She said that event will need to file for a SUP if it occurs again.