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We Have More Vacant Lots Than People

Newspaper: Valley Citizen & Teton Valley News

We Have More Vacant Lots Than People

By Anna Trentadue, VARD Program Director

Yup. It’s true. Including the vacant subdivisions in our 3 cities, Teton County has more vacant platted lots than people. From a supply and demand perspective, that’s not an economically viable scenario. Now here’s the kicker: the Teton County Comprehensive Plan only addresses future growth. For the most part, it will not address those vacant lots.

Since we can’t do much about the nearly 10,000 vacant lots in our valley, the question becomes: Do you want to see even more lots?

If so, where should they be? What kind of growth should we encourage? How can we protect the amenities that make people want to move or invest here? Since the vacation home market has tanked, what should our new emerging economy be?

Over the past 18 months, the Teton Valley 2020 Comp Plan process has grappled with these questions. By now, I’m sure you’ve seen the ads for the Teton Valley 2020 community workshops and open houses. I serve on the Economic Development Committee. Eighty-three community volunteers serve on the six Comp Plan committees. We are tasked with processing the public’s feedback and developing a set of goals, policies, and frameworks that reflect our community’s values.

And what are those values? According to the 750 of you who took the initial Comp Plan survey, the top community values are: outdoor recreation, schools, rural character, affordable cost of living, and wildlife. The top 5 amenities that you want to see in the future are: jobs, protection of wildlife habitat, incentives for businesses to move here, a recreation center, and lower taxes.

That last goal of lower taxes is tricky. A recent study commissioned by Valley Advocates for Responsible Development (VARD), the Sonoran Institute, and the Rural Planning Institute shows that not all development in the valley is created equal. Some lots are located so far from public services that the property taxes generated from residential development do not offset the cost of providing services to these remote areas. If all the vacant lots in our valley are built out, they will generate a $1.9M annual shortfall for county operations, and a $15.5M shortfall for capital improvements. This is a losing equation for us!

Now, let’s talk about future growth. According to the Hoffman Impact Fee study, there still remains enough un-platted 2.5-acre zoning to allow for an additional 85,000 people to move out into the unincorporated county. Sound crazy? It is! Without a strong plan, we can potentially plat thousands of additional lots in remote areas where we can’t afford to provide public services.

The bottom line is that we, as a community, have got to get real about future growth scenarios for Teton Valley. We are entering a new era of fiscal restraint. We simply cannot afford to harm or undermine our greatest economic driver – our natural beauty. We need planning to maximize our positive attributes. Good planning is tough, but it’s easier than facing the future consequences of unplanned growth.

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