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The Nature Conservancy Southeast Wyoming Program Director Brent Lathrop speaks about details of Belvoir Ranch to city officials during a property tour Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019, at the Belvoir Ranch in Cheyenne. City officials are looking at options to create a trail to Big Hole, which is currently only accessible in Colorado. Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – The Cheyenne City Council voted 9-0 Monday to approve a land exchange measure that city officials hope will eventually provide public access to an area known as the Big Hole.

Councilman Bryan Cook was absent from the meeting.

The Big Hole, an area of 1,800 acres of open space just south of Belvoir Ranch that runs all the way to the Colorado border, is currently inaccessible to the public from the Wyoming side of the state line. Hikers and bikers drive to Colorado to access a trail to get to the Big Hole.

The land deal between the city, Mariah LLC and chemical manufacturer Dyno Nobel represents a step toward public access from the Wyoming side of the area that features red rock canyons, and trails for biking and hiking.

But one element remains – an easement for public use of a tunnel that goes underneath the Union Pacific Railroad between the Mariah property and the private property.

Under the proposal approved Monday night, Dyno Nobel will buy a 543-acre property from Mariah adjacent to the Belvoir Ranch for about $1.3 million. The property is appraised at a little more than $1 million, and is located about 16 miles southwest of Cheyenne.

The city will then trade 419.6 acres of land it owns in the Swan Ranch area, near the crossing of Interstate 25 and Interstate 80, to Dyno Nobel for the Mariah property.

The Swan Ranch property is appraised at a little less than $1.1 million.

Two easements are established on private property south of the Mariah property and just northwest of the Big Hole – a conservation easement that covers the property and an access easement for a future trail.

Councilman Mark Rinne offered an addition to the proposal removing any financial obligation from the city. That amendment passed in a 9-0 vote.

However, Councilman Pete Laybourn expressed his concern about the city’s effort to secure an easement from Union Pacific.

“I don’t think it’s adequate to say, ‘The railroad is tough to deal with.’ Of course the railroad is tough to deal with,” Laybourn said. “I’m certainly in favor with this land exchange, but I’m concerned about our past history of not moving in an expeditious manner on an issue that undoubtedly will be prolonged.”

In response, deputy city attorney Alessandra McCoy-Fakelman told council members that city staff will “update the master plan, and that will give us more clarity on the railroad issue.”

She added that city staff members are working on the issues related to a railroad easement.

Lars Story, site manager for Dyno Nobel, said during last week’s Finance Committee meeting that the company owns about 2,200 acres around the plant. He said the Swan Ranch property would serve as an additional buffer between the plant and the city, and the land would remain in an undisturbed condition.

The city and the Cheyenne Board of Public Utilities bought the 18,800-acre Belvoir Ranch in 2003 for $5.9 million. Two years later, the city spent $525,000 to buy the Big Hole, just south of the ranch property.

In other action

Council members also voted 9-0 to approve a real estate purchase between the city and John J. Koehler for about 1.5 acres of undeveloped public property south of the Cheyenne Ice and Events Center for the appraised value of $293,000.

Koehler told Finance Committee members last week he intends to combine the property with the former Atlas Motel property he is purchasing as part of a plan for future development.

Koehler added that he hoped to demolish the former motel buildings as soon as possible.

Council members also approved the third and final reading of an amended plan for the Sweetgrass development, one of the largest projects ever proposed in Cheyenne, covering 2,349 acres southeast of where East College Drive meets Avenue C.

The Lummis family, which owns the land, plans to turn the former ranch into a development for single-family homes, townhomes and potential community college student housing alongside a Village Center providing space for retail, a hotel, fire and police stations, a library branch and a church.

According to city Senior Planner Susana Montana, the amendment will allow residential uses within the Village Center block, the northern part of the subdivision, such as live/work units and residences over shops.

The amendment will also provide design standards for buildings in the Village Center, and allow increased building heights from 40-55 feet. Within the proposed events center, building heights would range from 60-80 feet.

The amendment also will allow microbreweries in the Village Center and events center areas. The amendment would allow detached garages and carports in the high-density residential zone.

Steve Knight is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s local government reporter. He can be reached at 307-633-3182 or sknight@wyomingnews.com.

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