Megan Nelms, City of Mills planner, speaks before the Mills City Council Aug. 22. (YouTube)

Update: Due to a delay in publication of a public notice, the third reading and public hearing date for the Mills Downtown Commercial River Front District Rezoning Ordinance has been changed to Oct. 10. This story has been updated.

MILLS, Wyo. — Planning to convert the Mills downtown area and riverfront corridor into visitor destinations and community gathering places, City of Mills officials want property in those areas zoned for restricted business uses.

The rezoning effort done by ordinance involves converting certain residential and mixed-use lots for commercial use. Current uses of properties proposed for rezoning include single-family residences, mobile homes and a four-unit multi-family complex, plus several vacant parcels, according to City of Mills Planning and Zoning Commission documents.

On Aug. 22, the Mills City Council unanimously approved on first reading the Mills Downtown Commercial River Front District Rezoning Ordinance. As proposed, the ordinance rezones certain lots and blocks within the original Mills townsite to an established business district. The city also intends to change four lots from established residential to public lands institutions zones.

The council plans to vote on the second reading of the rezoning ordinance on Tuesday. The Sept. 12 public meeting is at 7 p.m. in City Hall, 704 4th St., Mills. 

Although a published public notice and a letter sent to closely affected property owners in July said the Mills City Council would have a public hearing to review the proposed rezoning ordinance on Aug. 22, no public hearing took place. Instead, the council approved the proposed ordinance on first reading without first accepting public comment. 

According to City Planner Megan Nelms, the oversight was unintentional due to the city clerk transition. The position, formerly held by Christine Trumbull, became vacant soon after the Aug. 8 council meeting. The City of Mills is advertising for a full-time clerk while Alyssa Hartmann, city treasurer, serves as interim clerk. 

The city will re-advertise a public hearing for the rezoning ordinance before the council’s third and final reading Oct. 10, according to Nelms. 

Public comment was accepted during the Aug. 3 planning meeting.  

With property rezoning, the City of Mills is following up on work started several years ago.

“The purpose is to further implement goals outlined in the 2017 Comprehensive Plan and the 2016 River Front Concept Development Plan, which include creation of a downtown district within the City of Mills, as well as development of the Downtown Riverfront Corridor,” state City of Mills Planning and Zoning Commission documents.

Nine property owners are listed in the planning document and rezoning involves about 40 lots.  A City of Mills map shows the parcel proposed for rezoning outlined in yellow:

A City of Mills map of the riverfront corridor district zoning plan:

If the proposed rezoning becomes official, all changed uses such as residential become allowed “non-conforming uses,” and current use of the property may continue in perpetuity unless a substantial change is made to the property, according to planning documents. 

“A substantial change would be a change in use, for instance, removing a manufactured home from the property and not replacing it, replacing it with a different structure or use, or a desire to alter the existing structure on the property,” planning documents state.

During open comment after the council’s 5–0 Aug. 22 ordinance vote, Nelms said the rezoning ordinance grandfathers residential property into its current zone, so people may continue to live in their homes. 

The idiom “grandfather use” generally means if the use is already established before a zoning change, and the use is legal under the old zoning, it is an allowed as a non-conforming use.

Asked about possible modifications to buildings, Nelms said each situation is considered independently; however, the “council is willing to work with people.”  

All future development, however, will be subject to the established business zoning district, city planning documents state. 

At the Aug. 22 council meeting, Nelms said the city is drafting a commercial overlay for the downtown riverfront zoning area with design standards, and public comment is part of that process. The vision is for the overlay zone to allow multi-use residential living such as on the second floors of buildings, she said. 

The overlay zone will have more restricted uses than the city’s general commercial district, she said.

Councilor Brad Neumiller said the development plan is long term and restrictive in how it will look.

“We’re just setting it up now,” he said.

Mayor Leah Juarez said the rezoning is more about the riverfront and how it looks, and her fear is for trailer houses to start popping up in view.

“Our longer goal is not to prevent residents here,” the mayor said. “We want to encourage them to stay because we’re happy with what we have right now.”

Read the City of Mills River Front District Rezoning document here: