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Comment letter on Teton County’s policy regarding unbuildable lots

November 13, 2017

Teton County Planning & Zoning Commission

150 Courthouse Drive

Driggs, ID 83422

Re: Building Rights Policy Alternatives

Dear Members of the Commission:

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the proposed Building Rights Policy alternative put forth by Planner Joshua Chase and County Prosecutor Billie Siddoway.

At this time, our position is that the county should take Alternative #4 and improve upon it in two ways: 1) the county should conduct an inventory of parcels of unknown origin, and 2) the county should create a user-friendly Lot of Record determination process.

We believe that a GIS query of non-subdivision parcels created since 1999 will provide the insight necessary to move forward on this perplexing issue.

Some of the reasons why Valley Advocates endorses a modified Alternative #4 are as follows:

  • Fairness. Those who applied for subdivision approval through proper channels presumably paid all applicable fees, hired surveyors and other professionals, and complied with all applicable requirements. We fear that an “amnesty” ordinance would reward those who, unwittingly or not, flouted zoning & subdivision rules.
  • Property Values. Property owners in Teton County are usually afforded some notice when neighboring properties are proposed for subdivision. This allows for property owners to not only comment, but also to ensure that adjoining properties will be held to the same rules when going through the proper subdivision process – and that basic health, safety, and welfare concerns are addressed. Amnesty or fee provisions, in our view, can diminish property values when everyone isn’t required to follow the rules in place at the time.
  • Fee-based legitimization. Our concern with Alternatives 2 & 3 is that approval of building permits will mostly be based on fees, not zoning. Though we appreciate the ability for unwitting purchasers of non-Lots of Record to seek building rights, we believe that said rights should be based on planning & zoning standards.
  • Two wrongs don’t make a right. We know the county’s records are spotty, but that doesn’t mean we should continue the shotgun approach of the past. At this time, we believe the county would be best served by embracing order, not more chaos. If an inventory of all new lots created since 1999 is completed, we as a community will know the amount and location of lots with unknown origin, and can select the right policy with eyes wide open.

As you know, Teton County has over 8,000 vacant lots, and we believe a conservative approach toward a Building Rights Policy is warranted.  Unfortunately, our real estate market has not been as quick to rebound as other peer communities, and we believe a careful approach to this issue will ensure market stability over the long run.

Finally, I’ll note that though Teton County has had more than its fair share of planning & zoning issues, it is not alone in dealing with Lots of Record. I’ve attached examples of materials from Summit County, Utah, and Deschutes County, Oregon, and would encourage Teton County to learn from the experiences of these and other peer communities.

Again, thank you for the opportunity to comment. All the best in going forward on a Building Rights Policy.

Respectfully,

Shawn Hill

Executive Director

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