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Letter to the Editor: Let the 300 Main project expire

Letter to the Editor: Let the 300 Main project expire

Let the 300 Main project expire

Teton Valley News, January 17, 2019

Slow, steady, incremental growth is key to Teton Valley’s economic success. It’s also the right strategy to preserve the special character from which the Valley draws its economic, social, and environmental well-being. The Teton County Comprehensive Plan, Economic Development Plan, and countless other public policy initiatives have all reached the same conclusion: in Teton Valley, character is our currency. Pretending to be another place results in economic, social, and environmental peril.

The story of zombie subdivisions in Teton Valley is well-known. Fly-by-night developers speculated that the 2000’s real estate boom was here to stay, and that Teton Valley was on the cusp of becoming “the next big thing.” Failed developments of yesteryear were fueled by an irrational exuberance completely unmoored from the rural, small-town character that has defined the Valley for generations.

So, it’s discouraging to see that development plans hatched during the boom are now being dusted off and recast as viable once again. Out in the rural parts of the county, developers have attempted to resurrect dense, suburban-style subdivisions that were bad ideas then, and are still bad ideas now. Here’s an example: Mountain Legends was a highly controversial project with 144 lots on 197 acres that was twice rejected by the Planning & Zoning Commission, but was eventually approved by the county commissioners in 2007. Nothing was ever built, and so after receiving two extensions from the County, the plat for Mountain Legends was eventually vacated in 2012. But now it’s back again, as Mountain Legends Round Two has already received Concept Plan approval from the County.  

In the cities, the promise of wealthy tourists with loose pockets (more specifically from China and Texas!) led to the quickie approval of a purported 5-star resort and shopping plaza in Huntsman Springs. According to the developer, a rushed approval was necessary for a grand opening date of July 4, 2016. Currently, the hotel site is occupied by dirt piles, and Huntsman Springs has been sold to new owners.

The Huntsman Springs Hotel was slated to open 2017.

OK- now back to 300 Main in Driggs: the developers of the 300 Main project are seeking a second 5-year extension of their development agreement to give them more time to develop a 400,000 square foot development next to Broulim’s, with 292 underground parking spaces, 19 buildings, 5 restaurants, and 199 housing units. For reference, 400,000 SF is roughly equal to the size of eight Broulim’s. Nothing has been built onsite and the project has been for sale for over a decade.

Is a 400,000 SF development really in the cards for Teton Valley?

Some say Driggs should just extend the development agreement for 300 Main and hope the market creates the demand for 400,000 SF in the next 5 years. Unfortunately, such gambits have not played out well in our peer communities. The entrance to Ketchum is marred by a giant hole where a 155,000 SF hotel was approved in 2008 – but never built.

The decade-old Sun Valley “hole in the ground” – Photo credit to Idaho Mountain Express

Over the hill, the unfinished McCabe project – aka “Jackson’s Hole” – was literally declared a public nuisance.

“Jackson’s Hole,” an expired development approved in 2008. The Town of Jackson required the property owner to reinforce the hole after it became structurally unsound. Photo credit to the Jackson Hole News and Guide.

Keep in mind that both of these projects are only a fraction of the size of 300 Main. Even in the white-hot real estate markets of Jackson Hole and Sun Valley, a decade’s worth of market recovery has not yielded economic viability for these grand projects of yesteryear. Like the zombie subdivisions that have come to define Teton Valley’s failed experiment with suburban sprawl, the extension of the 300 Main development agreement could be the recipe for more development headaches.

It’s time to embrace our cherished character, not only because it’s what our community wants, but because it’s a good strategy to avoid mistakes experienced by Teton Valley and her sister communities. I sincerely hope the Driggs City Council chooses to finally let the 300 Main development agreement expire so that a development more realistic in scale can be conceptualized in its place.  

 

-Shawn Hill

Executive Director

Valley Advocates for Responsible Development

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