By Ernie Over


A measure to rezone the Presbyterian Church property on North Broadway at Elk Street at Tuesday’s City Council meeting failed on a 4-3 affirmative vote. What? Because of the number of protests lodged over the change, a super majority of the council, or five positive votes, was needed for approval. The measure, then, failed by a single vote. 

After yet another long discussion, Mayor Tim Hancock and Councilors Karla Borders and Dean Peranteaux cast the no votes. Before the meeting, it appeared the measure might’ve been headed for approval, as some previous opponents of the zone change indicated they would now support the move, which would’ve allowed Path Wellness to purchase the property and operate its behavioral health counseling business there. Path officials earlier said their present location on Sunset Street had reached its capacity and they needed more room.

The change of heart by some residents of the neighborhood was eloquently explained by Tanis Manning, who said she still was opposed to the zone change, but was willing to allow it. “A mental health facility could not be in a better place, it will help us all. This is not about sour grapes. We appreciate all of your time and effort,” she said. 

Perantaux said he was having difficulty deciding something that he thought would negatively impact a neighborhood on the other side of town from his.

When Community Development Director Michael Miller asked those in attendance by raising their hands whether they approved the change, a majority in attendance complied. But those folks also included a delegation from the church, who sought the zone change; not all were residents of the surrounding neighborhood. 

Councilor Karla Borders, who did not telegraph how she was to vote, said, “I come from a long line of people pleasers. I don’t want the church to sit vacant. It’s a balancing act of everything we do.” 

Resident Barbara Dickinson, who opposed the zone change, said the church should be allowed to sell its property. “They should sell it, they have a buyer. The problem is isolating it in a residential neighborhood.”

Mayor Tim Hancock was the last to speak on the issue. “I get it that people didn’t want change in their neighborhood,” referring to a very emotional Planning and Zoning Board meeting when most in attendance were not fully informed about the use of the property, if sold. “I agree with the idea that Path Wellness is great, but personally, I’m against the [zone] change.” The mayor said he thought it was very interesting that a business such as Path’s didn’t fit in a residential zone, when other uses were allowed, including schools and medical offices. “They’re trying to improve things and want the community to improve,” he said. “This service is needed.” Then he said, “I may be the only one who votes against it.” 

As it turned out, he was joined by two other council members and that was enough to kill the change. 

With the denial of the zone change, Path Wellness will not purchase the property and will now look for another location. The Presbyterian church, which has been trying to sell its property for at least the last four years with a dwindling and older congregation, will still be looking for a buyer. 

Raucous public comment

At the top of the meeting, the public comment period almost got out of hand when one speaker engaged in a loud argument with council members. Ross Wilson, who lives on Airport Hill, said he moved here two years ago and complained about all the alcohol use he saw in town, “and all the glass on the road, I can’t even walk my dog there anymore,” he alleged. “There’s a junk yard right in front of the airport and it’s amazing to me that someone would want to open a business there with all that junk.” The area by the airport is a zoned for industrial. He complained that other neighbors in the area were using and selling drugs, “And nothing is being done about it. You don’t even have a drug dog,” he said in a loud voice as he gestured with both arms toward Police Chief Eric Hurtado. He explained that he was a former law enforcement officer in South Carolina who was involved in a crash back there with a drunk driver that severely injured him. Thus his opposition to the granting of liquor licenses to the casinos on the Wind River Reservation, not realizing that those were county decisions, not done by the city. 

Councilor Kyle Larson told Wilson, “you’ve come to the real West, this is not South Carolina. We’ve been trying to get a tax on beer for the last 32 years to fund buying a drug dog,” he said. “It’s the people coming off of the reservation into Riverton” that are the problem, he added. 

Mayor Hancock said even though the city does not have a drug dog, it does have access to the Sheriff Office’s canine when needed. 

“You are not doing anything at all,” Wilson shot back, at which time he got into an argument with both Councilors Larson and Sailsbury, prompting the mayor to gavel the meeting back into order. After his long tirade, Wilson finally took his seat thanking the council for listening to him. 

That brought Jared Baldes up to the podium, who began to shame and point at Larson for his comments that the problems in Riverton were coming from the reservation and Mexican cartels. “Each one of you up there [on the dias] should’ve stopped him from saying something like that,” Baldes said. “You represent everybody in this town.” 

As Baldes turned away from the podium, an agitated Councilor Borders told him that it was not her job or place to censure what he said. “He needs to be accountable at the voting booth.”

After those outbursts, the rest of the meeting proceeded without drama.