The Casper City Council on Tuesday granted a request on first reading to rezone 2.8 acres north of the city for development that representatives of nearby businesses said could affect the attractiveness of the area among other issues.

The council's vote reversed the city's planning and zoning commission decision in September to deny the request by East Elkhorn Ranch, LLC, to rezone the land at the southwest corner of Events Center Drive and North Poplar Street to C-4 (Highway Business).

Several years ago, East Elkhorn Ranch, LLC, acquired the property from the city as part of a swap for McMurry-owned property on Casper Mountain that was used for the biathlon park, McMurry Companies president Timm Smith told the council.

In his petition in July to rezone the land, Smith wrote East Elkhorn Ranch, LLC, would market the land for medical, hotel, motel and uses similar to nearby businesses including the Central Wyoming Counseling Center, but it needed the land rezoned from PH (Park Historic) to C-4.

In September, the planning and zoning commission heard from the public and the motion to rezone the property failed because it determined that commercial development there would not be compatible with existing businesses.

The company petitioned the city to reconsider the denial. City staff researched the proposal and determined that the company's plans conformed with Casper's land use plan, according to documents in the council's meeting agenda.

Tuesday, the matter came before the council on a first of three readings after a public hearing.

After Smith spoke in favor, several people spoke against it.

Kent Katz, a partner in Gastroenterology Associates, 141 Wilkins Circle, and the Sterling Surgical Center said that area has become a small but significant medical hub with attractive buildings and landscaping. A business such as a liquor store could attract people who also may be drug abusers.

Kevin Hazucha, CEO of the Central Wyoming Counseling Center, 1430 Wilkins Circle, said he opposed the zoning change because that could lead to the development of a convenience store or bar.

That could have very bad results for patients who are in fragile time as they recover from drug and alcohol abuse, Hazucha said.

After the public hearing, council member Bob Hopkins said he favored the zone change because C-4 could apply to any business.

Council member Ken Bates favored the change and potential development because that area by the intersection of Interstate 25 and U.S. Highway 20-26 is a gateway to central Casper.

Council member Charlie Powell said he wrestled with the question because he worked at the Central Wyoming Counseling Center for 24 years and knows the struggles of recovering addicts.

But the city council has control of liquor licenses and could stop a request for a bar or liquor store, Powell said.

The council voted to approve the request on first reading. Council member Mike Huber abstained and Shawn Johnson had an excused absence.

The council will consider the zone change in subsequent meetings.

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