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Dealing with the living dead

Newspaper: Valley Citizen

Reprinted from the Valley Citizen, August 18, 2010

By Jeannette Boner, VC Staff

Click here to view the article from the VC Web site.

County begins to address "zombie subdivisions."

Dealing with the development boom of 2006 and 2007, Teton County officials are struggling to find an equitable way to deal with platted plans that have petered out.

The reality of a national economic fizzle coupled with the county’s real estate glut has put Teton County Commissioners to task, spending countless hours wrestling over developments tittering on the brink of expiration. These “zombie” subdivisions face bank foreclosures, forcing the county to hone development tools that could rejuvenate not only an individual development plan, but ultimately the county’s overall economy.

Last Thursday, a small step was made in a direction that has been long discussed among planners, engineers and officials: the re-platting of existing subdivisions. Looking specifically at the 33 developments that are expired in the county’s planning process, commissioners agreed to draft a letter to the latter developers looking to give their subdivisions a second chance.

“To me, this is a problem,” said Teton County Commissioner Kathy Rinaldi. “With 33 (subdivisions) in breach, where do we start delegating out our police powers? I think that’s where we fumble a lot.”

The letter was the first step toward drafting a formal re-platting process. There was some debate among County Commissioners as to whether time should be spent on the idea of re-platting existing subdivisions or focusing on the Teton County Comprehensive Plan, an initiative in its beginning stages that will look to update and redraft the county’s guide for future development.

“It’s a problem that is adverse enough to have an impact on the public,” said Teton County Commission Chair Larry Young of the stagnate subdivisions.

Commissioner Bob Benedict questioned delaying the Comprehensive Plan process to focus on the re-platting effort.

“We have no shortage of proof,” said Benedict of the need to address unrealized developments within the county. “It’s just what can we get done?”

Rinaildi stressed that even if the county were to see a Comprehensive Plan drafted, the remaining vacant and expired subdivisions that already exist would render future planning irrelevant.

“How important is this to the bigger picture?” she said. “Is this equally or more important that the Comp Plan? We could have a vision that is impossible to what is already platted.”

The 33 subdivisions that will be addressed are comprised of more than 5,300 acres of land with a total of 1,779 lots, 488 of which are sold and 83 of which have already been built upon.
 

The public benefit that could result by re-platting include: a decrease in development density in rural parts of the county by requiring re-platting to include more open space or larger parcels within the subdivision; preservation of sensitive areas and conservation of natural resources; promotion of the county’s agricultural heritage by incentivizing agriculture; a decrease in infrastructural costs to the county by requiring re-platting to have no negative cost of service to the county; an increase in residual land values by decreasing the amount of real estate inventory, as well as other public considerations.

“The oversupply could, for lack of a better word, become blight,” Rinaldi said.

The idea was positively received by those in attendance at Thursday’s meeting, which included former Jackson town planner Bill Collins, now of Collins Planning Associates, who offered to volunteer his time to the county to work through the idea of re-platting. Also in attendance was local real estate agent Julie Bryant.

“Having all of Teton Valley for sale isn’t good,” Bryant said at the meeting. “The fact that we could have more restrictions is good. There are many viable projects that, with time, could get to the next step. The value is there and people want to live in this area.”

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