CASPER, Wyo. — Former Casper City Councilman Jesse Morgan and his Gorgon, LLC business partner Scott Gorrie are seeking a vacation and replat to create a roughly 31.5 acre “Gorgon Hills Addition Subdivision.”
The area is located south of West 46th Street and east of Moose Street in Casper. The proposal would create six lots ranging in size from 2 to 10.76 acres.
Several residents of the area said during the council’s Tuesday, May 19 meeting that the proposed development would block their access to state land located to the east of the proposed development.
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Councilman Bob Hopkins pushed back against that opposition to the proposal.
“There was never any legal access [to the state land] for those folks that are complaining about this issue,” he said. “The whole issue is people don’t want to build behind ‘my’ house.”
The land had previously been owned by the city which had acquired it for the possible construction of a cemetery. After moving away from such plans, the city sold the property to Tony Cercy in 2017. Gorgon, LLC acquired the property in 2018.
“At one point the City of Casper thought we needed more land to build a new cemetery,” Hopkins said. “The topography is a little tough to build a cemetery in.”
“A lot of these people that thought they were living behind what could be a cemetery are upset. I can understand. Except they don’t own that. [The property was sold] through two transactions. Mr. Morgan bought it and I’m okay with that.”
Hopkins said that since the land had been owned by the city, it “was actually never accessible to the state land.”
Morgan also called into the meeting on Tuesday, saying, “This is a simple rural development that is in front of you tonight.”
He asked that council make an exception for the replat to rules in the city’s municipal code which limit residential block lengths to 750 feet, saying the topography of the area doesn’t lend itself to the construction of cross-streets to meet that requirement.
City Attorney John Henley said that when initially looking at the proposal, city staff had recommended three cross-streets would be needed, but that the Planning and Zoning Commission had amended the replat in their recommendation to require only one cross-street.
Councilman Mike Huber offered an amendment to eliminate the need for any cross-streets under the proposal, but this amendment was defeated on a 4-4 tie vote by the council (Mayor Steve Freel, who works in real estate, abstained from the vote).
Some of the residents of the area said that no exception to the block length requirements should be allowed.
“My biggest deal with this is we need the cross streets and they are not feasible,” Jim Burnett said.
While he acknowledged that the topography of the area would make it difficult to construct those streets, but that when the property was purchased, the owners “had to know there would have been issues.”
“Bending the code [requirements] does not seem right,” Burnett said. “I don’t see how we can do this properly. Over 3-6 homes, it doesn’t seem right.”
Hopkins argued that in some cases, the block length requirement is “just ridiculous.”
“The truth is that we have run into this issue before,” he said. There are places in east Casper that are dead flat….that have 1,100 foot streets with no cross-streets.”
He said that with steep grades in the area, “it makes no economic sense” to build cross streets.
“I’d like to hear what the reasoning is behind requiring cross streets every 750 feet,” Councilman Charlie Powell said.
City Planner Craig Collins said the discussion had become somewhat of an “exercise in planning 101.” He noted that cross streets help better disperse traffic , provide access to emergency vehicles and allow for future expansion and development.
Collins noted that once development is in place, if there are no cross streets, that would limit expansion possibilities. He noted that the state land could be sold, bought or traded sometime down the road.
“I recognize that today, it is difficult to imagine that area being developable,” Collins added.
But he reminded the council that the proposed subdivision is not that far from the Mesa redevelopment area where substantial dirt work transformed an area that would have previously seemed topographically unsuited to development and allowed for the construction of schools, movie theaters and more.
“Really, the purpose [of cross-streets] is to accommodate future development,” he said.
Huber asked whether the city has granted variances from the block length in other areas due to topography.
“The cross-street requirement is fairly new,” Collins said, saying it had been in place for about 7-8 years. “I can’t think of any variances in that time.”
Bill Burkett said that the council should not grant the variance request.
“My wife and I have lived in the area for approximately 30 years,” he said. “I can accept that they are going to build houses there. I ask that Mr. Morgan and his partner abide by the same standards as anyone else in the code.”
“He was on city council, I’m sure he knows the requirement to build on that property. Unfortunately when you become a developer, there are costs to do that.”
Councilman Steve Cathey said his main concern was that the proposed development wouldn’t provide sufficient access to emergency vehicles.
Other citizens criticized the proposal on different grounds. Cheryl Hackett said she had ethical concerns since Morgan had been on the city council when the property was sold and didn’t recuse himself from voting.
Morgan didn’t have a chance to defend himself on that point during the meeting, as he was already off the phone. But he did state his case when the Planning & Zoning Commission considered the replat request in April.
During that meeting, Morgan said he didn’t approach votes pertaining to this property any differently than he did when voting on other properties the city was involved with.
“Honestly, it was just like any other property to me,” Morgan said. “That was not an option to buy it. To be honest, I would have loved to buy the fire station in PV (Paradie Valley), but …it is nothing that I pursued or anything like that.”
“When I heard that Mr. Cercy was selling various properties throughout the city of Casper, he was more or less done with Casper, I thought, what a great opportunity to buy something and take advantage of that. So I reached out to a buddy of mine, that was in 2018….When I purchased the property, it was in private hands. And we formed this Gorgon, LLC.”
Morgan added: “Anytime that I voted on it, it was just to assist in Casper as an issue, and then after that it was a private sale between two private parties.”
Hackett also said she had concern about access to state land and the exception request to not require the cross-streets.
Councilman Ken Bates asked her whether, when just considering the replat question, if she would support it if the cross-streets were required.
“It is difficult for me to separate my concern with the ethics in how the land was acquired,” she said. “I don’t think as an elected official that looks right.”
Huber asked Hackett if she had evidence that Morgan had acted unethically.
“Ma’am, you have repeatedly in essence accused Mr. Morgan of engaging in some kind of collusion to get some kind of special break….do you have any evidence at all to back that up?” he asked.
Hackett said that she was “not making accusations.” She said her concern was that Morgan had voted on the sale of the land while on city council and had then purchased the previously city owned land, albeit from a private owner, while still on the council.
Bates noted that council had said at the beginning of the discussion they were only going to consider the replat question and not the ethics question. Huber said that while that was the case, Hackett had been allowed to share her concerns and he thought those should be backed up.
“I want to know if there is any evidence of any collusion,” Huber said.
Hopkins noted that residents of the area who want to protect their access to the state land could secure that access by purchasing the land themselves from Morgan.
“It is the reasonable thing to do,” he said.
While Cathey had concerns about limited means of egress to the proposed subdivision, he said he was not swayed by the arguments about access to state land.
“One of the things that keeps coming up is access to state land,” he said. “[There is] no requirement for a private landowner to grant public access to public land. For us to force him to have access to public land is totally wrong.”
While the council did not adopt the amendment to remove the inclusion of one required cross street from the replat, they approved the replat on first reading during the meeting. Council would need to approve the vacation and replat on two further readings for it to become final.
If you would like to contact members of the Casper City Council regarding this or any other issue, here is their contact information:
Mayor Steve Freel (Ward III, Term expires 1/3/23):
- (307) 259-1276
Vice Mayor Khrystyn Lutz (Ward I, Term expires 1/3/23):
- (307) 359-3673
Councilman Charlie Powell (Ward II, Term Expires 1/5/21):
- (307) 577-6042
Councilman Shawn Johnson (Ward II, Term expires 1/3/23):
- (307) 337-5057
- (307) 277-7377
Councilman Ken Bates (Ward II, Term expires 1/5/21):
- (307) 473-1247
Councilman Steve Cathey (Ward III, Term Expires 1/5/21):
- (307) 262-8237
Councilman Bob Hopkins (Ward I, Term expires 1/5/21):
- (307) 472-1837
Councilman Mike Huber (Ward I, Term expires 1/5/21):
- (307) 266-4188
Councilman Ray Pacheco (Ward III, Term expires 1/3/23):
- (307) 258-1226
Council members can also be reached by mail at: 200 N. David Street, 82601
If you would like to contact members in your specific ward, but don’t know which ward you are in, a map is available at the City of Casper’s website.