CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Laramie County residents banded together at the state capitol Monday afternoon to advocate for a bill that would recognize the rights of landowners in independent pockets of cities.
They testified during the House Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivision meetings as representatives deliberated House Bill 73, legislation that would require municipals to seek a majority approval from landowners in unincorporated areas before officially annexing their land. If accepted, cities and towns would also be liable for providing owners with notices of the annexation process and any costs associated with it.
In state statute, independent areas that are 75% surrounded by city land can be annexed without appeal.
The bill, which is co-sponsored by Clarence Styvar, R-Cheyenne, and Sen. Lynn Hutchings, R-Cheyenne, unanimously passed with multiple amendments made to include more resident voters.
Approval for second and third readings by the subdivision are still needed before the bill can move on to the House.
Land annexation is a touchy subject between landowners in county pockets and the City of Cheyenne.
The disputed pockets are surrounded by city property but remain independent. Residents living there aren’t entitled to amenities including Cheyenne’s first responder services and water and sewage systems, and develop their land in accordance with county land rules and regulations.
There are 65 county pockets in Cheyenne, containing 127 independently owned properties.
Citing concerns about residents’ lack of access to first responders, Mayor Patrick Collins announced the city’s intention to annex those areas and the City Council took action last year to begin the process.
While landowners were reassured they would not be kicked off their land or have to pay fees associated with the annexation process, including updating infrastructures or roads to meet city code requirements, some are vehemently opposed to it and say the order violates their property rights.
These concerns were brought up during Monday’s meeting.
Patrick Farrelly, who identified himself as a homeowner on East Fox Farm Road, called the order a “land grab” and said residents should decide whether they want to be annexed.
“I think the city ought to take the people’s opinion first and have it to where the people that want in [on annexation], they’re the ones who got to be proactive,” Farrelly said.
April Brimmer Kuntz has owned her house at 6210 Brimmer Road since 1960 and doesn’t want to be forced into annexation.
“When I visited my friend, the mayor of Cheyenne, I said, ‘I don’t want to be annexed’ and he said, ‘You are 100% surrounded by the city,'” Kuntz said during the meeting. “That’s not right. … This bill is here; it’s not perfect but it’s here because there’s a real problem.”
After hearing several more similar comments, Rep. Cody Wylie, R-Rock Springs, suggested amending the first draft of the bill.
In the original bill, only landowners who had a majority of land in unincorporated areas could vote on annexation and municipals needed a two-thirds approval to begin the process.
Now anyone who owns a parcel of those lands is eligible, and a majority approval is needed.
“I think that [the amendments] would cover property owners better,” Wyile said.
Although there was little discussion during the amendment and approval process, Rep. Mike Yin, D-Jackson, revealed his intention to vote against it in the future.
Yin believes the mentioned annexation issues are county related and wouldn’t face fierce opposition from landowners in counties like Teton, where unincorporated areas are smaller and less inhabited.
“[Teton County] has a lot of landowners that are there [in unincorporated areas] for two weeks at a time,” Yin said during the meeting. “Any issues with the annexation becomes really problematic when you have a whole group of people who do want to be annexed. … I do think that there could be something that works for both, but I don’t think that is this bill.”
The updated bill in full can be viewed here.