This is an editorial from VARD’s Board President, David Axelrod, to be published Sept 3 and 4th, 3014 in the Teton Valley News and Valley Citizen.
It’s time to pay attention to Huntsman Springs
Huntsman Springs, a development larger in area than Driggs itself, is being redesigned with significant changes that will impact this entire community. Many of the proposed changes conflict with design proposals that Huntsman made to get its original approvals. How should Driggs respond to proposed changes that may have harmful impacts on the City? This is a serious question that needs input from the broader community. However, as of right now, almost no public comment whatsoever has been submitted on the redesign of Huntsman Springs.
Did you know that the resort hotel and conference center we all thought were planned next to the county courthouse has been mothballed indefinitely – likely forever –while Huntsman instead pursues a luxury resort at the far north end of the development? The building site plans for this north end hotel resort include a spa, pool, tennis court, fitness center, café, two restaurants, conference facilities, and a plaza containing both a 5,166SF excursion center and approximately 13,500SF of commercial retail. Huntsman’s representatives say the property adjacent to the courthouse is an undesirable location, even though that location was created by Huntsman’s insistence that the new courthouse be located there with the promised hotel.
You only have one opportunity to offer public comment and that is NOW. Give your comments at what may be the final hearing before the Driggs City Council on September 16 at 7:30 pm, or, if you cannot attend, email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
A little history:
When Huntsman Springs first applied to create its 1,347-acre development, it presented a comprehensive residential and recreational plan that would be integrated with the City of Driggs. Huntsman insisted on the current location of the new County Courthouse as one way to connect their development to town. They platted a 300-unit conference hotel and commercial buildings in the empty fields surrounding the freshly-built courthouse. A special downtown zoning district was created just to accommodate their development. Huntsman also promised public pathways, six public parks, and residential improvements along its east boundary with Driggs that would further integrate the development with the City. All of these features were part of the package of promises made by Huntsman to get Driggs’ approval. That was the deal back then.
Now Huntsman wants to take back these benefits without providing meaningful compensation to Driggs in what I fear is an effort to create a private, gated community, walled off from Driggs.
Just last month, with several missing pieces of critical information and without receiving any pre-hearing public comment, the Driggs’ P&Z recommended allowing Huntsman to now focus their hotel resort and their commercial plaza a mile north into the development where it will not provide Driggs with any of the promised and anticipated benefits of integration with the City, revitalization of Driggs’ west side, or stimulation of downtown Driggs. The public notices were vague and did not disclose Huntsman Springs’ proposal to abandon the promised hotel next to the courthouse, or to create the remote commercial plaza, or the changes to public pathways. Huntsman Springs says that it no longer makes economic sense (to Huntsman Springs) to fulfill its original promises. What about the community’s best interests?
And separately, Huntsman is seeking to take back its contribution of public parks and wall off its development from Driggs’ west side with a half-mile stretch of homes 15-feet apart. In exchange, Huntsman first offered Driggs property they had no use for. Fortunately, a wave of public comment in opposition to this proposed deal and a vigorous defense of the city’s interests by the Driggs Parks Committee led to a more equitable trade of cash and a public events plaza at the former Stock Lumber site. This shows that good and fair results are possible when you involve the public in a thorough study of the issues before making hasty decisions.
Bait and switch on Huntsman Springs? Is Driggs getting steamrolled? You make the call and let the City know what you think.
VARD Board President