Teton County’s draft Land Use Code is the primary tool to implement the Comprehensive Plan. It gives the plan the force of law and regulates development in the areas outside of Driggs, Victor, and Tetonia. It will likely shape development in Teton County for decades and determine how Teton Valley will look and feel. The current code has largely been responsible for the boom-and-bust model that has come to characterize Teton Valley development for the last two decades. If we want Teton Valley to grow in a thoughtful, orderly way, then it is crucial that we get the Land Use Code right. Want to know more about the code, what it means, and how it works? Read our 6 installments below.
Is the draft code on track?
At the beginning of this code writing process nearly three years ago, the Planning & Zoning Commission identified these 5 shared goals:
#1. The current zoning code is not always clear in regards to the process or the requirements.
#2. The current zoning code does not provide useable options for developing or dividing land.
#3. The new code needs to do a better job or protection and promoting the resources Teton County has.
#4. The new code should allow for flexibility and creativity in the design.
#5. The new code needs to provide a more useful mechanism for revising existing undeveloped subdivisions.
The draft code MEETS goals 2 and 4.
The draft code DOES THE OPPOSITE of goals 1 and 3.
Goal 5 is UNADDRESSED.
Top 6 issues in the draft code
Many have asked whether this draft code is an improvement over the existing code. The answer depends on which section of the code you are reviewing. To help guide you, these are the top 6 critical issues in the draft code that still need revision and our verdict on whether the draft code improves upon the weaknesses in the existing code.
- ISSUE #1 – Land Divisions. The Comp Plan calls for narrowly tailored tools that give viable options to farmers and ranchers to pass land to heirs and raise capital when needed. Instead, the draft code provides even more fast track land division options (see section 3.6.1.) than the present, and they are not limited to just agricultural lands – anyone can use them. Teton County is grappling with 7,000 vacant lots and the recent issue of illegitimately created lots from fast track land divisions. These new and more lax land split options will create a “mini boom” of additional subdivision lots approved with minimal oversight and no public hearings. Verdict: Worse than the existing code
- ISSUE #2 – Subjective Regulations. Instead of proactively making decisions on development design and density, the draft code passes the buck to whomever the decision makers are at the time. At 438 pages long, there are many loopholes where studies and requirements are not required (see table on 13.2.2.), and when they are, they are usually prepared by the developer. These and other subjective standards create all sorts of headaches down the road for all involved. Landowners will not confidently know what their development rights are, nor will they have a clear idea about what can be developed next to them. Verdict: Same as the existing code
- ISSUE #3 – Housing Density. Division 3.6 allows housing densities that are double what is currently allowed in most rural areas of the county. Most of existing A20 zone is proposed to be replaced by the Rural Agriculture, Lowland Agriculture, and Foothill Zones, which effectively increases permitted housing density from 1 house per 20 acres to 1 per 10. On the lands between the three cities, in exchange for 3.75 acre housing density, subdivision up to 4 lots will be allowed without a public hearing (see table on 14.1). Verdict: Worse than the existing code
- ISSUE #4 – Wildlife & Habitat Protections. The Comp Plan places high value on wildlife and habitat, calling for the strengthening and refinement of the rules protecting these natural resources. With a decrease in the area (see section 13.3.8) covered by the revised wildlife overlay and the new housing density exemptions, the new code substantially decreases wildlife protections. Moreover, the Idaho Department of Fish & Game has found the proposed regulations to be technically flawed. Verdict: Worse than the existing code
- ISSUE #5 – Scenic Vistas Protection. The Comp Plan recommends a Scenic Resource Inventory and designated open space corridors – particularly in the salvageable areas along our state highways in order to better protect scenic vistas. The draft code has vague references to open space priorities, but no comprehensive effort to protect key scenic vistas outside of road corridors.(See section 9.3). Verdict: Same as the existing code
- ISSUE #6 – Addressing Zombie Subdivisions. With 7,000 vacant lots in the unincorporated county, the code should find ways to either vacate or redevelop these defunct subdivisions, rather than double rural housing densities while incentivizing fast track land division options. The code provides no new guidance (see section 14.10) on plat vacations. Verdict: Same as the existing code
HOW TO COMMENT
- Planning & Zoning Commission email@example.com
- Board of County Commissioners firstname.lastname@example.org
- Teton County Planning Administrator email@example.com
HOW WE CAN HELP YOU
We’ll be watching closely to understand the next steps in the code drafting process and keep you apprised by signing up for our e-alerts here. You can also stop by our office anytime to speak with our staff. We will publish our more specific written comments as they are submitted to Teton County during this process.
REPORT: Oct 5th public hearing before the Teton County Planning & Zoning Commission:
The hearing began at 5pm in the High School auditorium, with about 50 people in attendance. At the beginning of the hearing, County Planning & Zoning Administrator Kristin Owen gave a 90 minute presentation about possible changes to be considered by the Planning & Zoning Commission (PZC) in the course of their review. Many of these recommendations were in response to public comment, and Owen’s comments mainly focused on technicalities, though she did suggest the PZC consider changes to density and the wildlife protection map.
After a refreshment break, PZC Chairman Dave Hensel opened the public hearing at approximately 7pm. Prior to the hearing, a one-page list of talking points advertised with the campaign logos from local Commissioner Candidates Mark Ricks and Harley Wilcox was handed out to many in attendance. Some of the points included possible on the storage of farm equipment, placement of garages, limits on the number of livestock kept, and objections to the 75% open space requirement for full plat subdivisions. Of the 25 or so members of the public who gave testimony, the vast majority were against the new code as an infringement to property rights and read off examples listed from the campaign handout. Teton County’s Planning Administrator Kristen Owen then rebutted the public testimony by simply stating that most of the requirements mentioned in public testimony did not apply to agricultural uses or in rural zoning districts.
The PZC then closed the public hearing. They are expected to make their final deliberation and recommendation to the Board of County Commissioners on October 10th. (Reminder: no public comment will be taken at this Oct 10th meeting.)
REPORT: Oct 10th public deliberation by the Teton County Planning & Zoning Commission:
For the first time in over two years, the Teton County Planning & Zoning Commission (PZC) held a public hearing regarding the county’s new Land Use Code on October 5th. After nearly 90 minutes of staff presentation, the PZC opened the hearing around 7PM. Nearly all written and verbal comment received through the public comment period was negative. After a quick staff rebuttal to the comments offered, the PZC closed the public hearing and continued it to the next day, Thursday, October 6th, where the PZC held over 4 hours of deliberation. During this time, the PZC made many revisions to the draft code and continued the meeting again to Monday, October 10th, where they revised the draft further through the course an additional 5-hours of deliberation.
At the meeting’s conclusion, they were unable to decide whether to forward the draft code to the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) or hold another public hearing. After a lengthy discussion, the PZC decided to continue the meeting to Monday, October 17th in order to give the staff time to compile a redlined draft reflecting their proposed revisions. At the October 17th meeting, we expect the PZC will either re-open the public hearing or vote to officially recommend approval of the Land Use Code to the BOCC.
As to the substance of these revisions, most of PZC’s revisions to the code thus far have been technical and do not address the merits of the top 6 issues we have identified in our public comments, with the exception of the PZC’s revisions to the wildlife and natural resource protection regulations, which we believe to now be further weakened.
In December 2016, the County Commissioners met with the PZC to determine the next steps for the code process. The two commissions decided to produce a redlined document that would be put out again for further public review. The PZC continues to make changes to the draft code, however, the county Planning & Zoning Administrator resigned in late 2016 and new County Commissioners took office in 2017.
With the recent hire of a new Planning Administrator, we expect to hear more about Teton County’s intended next steps. We will keep you apprised.
Decoding the Code
In 2012, Teton County adopted an award-winning Comprehensive Plan that was the culmination of two years work involving over 4,000 public comments and 1,800 citizen volunteer hours. This Comprehensive Plan envisions thriving cities set amidst productive farmlands interspersed with protected wildlife and scenic views. Though the Comprehensive Plan is visionary, it is also vague. It is a collection of wonderful ideas that have yet to be implemented. The Teton County Land Use Code is a set of regulations that will give the principles and values embodied in the Comprehensive Plan the force of law.
So why not just take what’s in the Comprehensive Plan and codify it?
Well, the challenge before us is that many of the ideas in the plan are just that – ideas. They need to be articulated further so that they can actually become laws. For example, the Comp Plan states that recreation opportunities need to be enhanced. Does this mean we require pathways for all new subdivisions? Or does it simply mean that we are supportive of development that voluntarily proposes new pathways? As another example, what about minimum lot sizes? The Comp Plan recommends “low density” for many sensitive areas of the county. But what is “low density?” 20-acre zoning? 40 acres? 80 acres? 20-acres with clustered homesites?
These are examples of the numerous fundamental questions that need to be answered, and our community needs to have a hearty discussion in coming up with answers. Our hope is that Decoding the Code will break these questions down so that you can provide your input and that, as a community, we can come up with informed, fact-based answers. This is what is necessary in creating a great code and making our visionary Comprehensive Plan a reality.
We hope you the you find the Decoding the Code series useful, interesting, and maybe even a little fun!
In this issue, we provide Comp Plan and Land Use Code 101, how each are related, and how important policy questions must be addressed before our Land Use Code is written.
What should the rural areas of the county look like? We tackle the issues of rural zoning in the west and north sides of Teton Valley, and discuss how best to preserve the pristine natural resources and nurture our cherished agricultural heritage.
Coding Character: Part 2
Driggs, Victor, Tetonia, and everything in between! How do we make our cities and neighborhoods better? How do we ensure that future development is more orderly and consistent with the Comp Plan’s vision?
We all know Teton Valley is chock-full of scenery and wildlife. But how do we protect scenic and natural resource lands if we don’t know specifically where they are located? In this issue, we will discuss the importance of data and mapping techniques to ensure transparency and predictability in future development.
In the last 20 years, our county of 10,000 people somehow created 9,000 vacant lots! In addition, some commercial and industrial developments have proliferated outside of our cities. We will discuss how much and what type of development our community can accommodate – and where it should go.
Proactively Planning for Housing, Transportation, and Recreation
In the last several years, Teton Valley has seen a marked increase in traffic, demand for recreation facilities, and an increasing shortage in affordable housing. We will discuss how to proactively meet these issues head-on rather than letting them become full-blown crises.