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Landscape Amnesia

Newspaper: Teton Valley News & The Valley Citizen

Landscape Amnesia

 

To view the realities of the real estate bust and opportunities for the future, drive 6 miles out of Driggs on Bates Road and take a right on the quiet dirt lane towards Big Eddy.  Stop your car there and look across the passenger seat towards the Tetons.  Up until last week, the 160-acre hayfield you’re looking at was, on paper, a 51-lot development called Scenic River Estates. 

Scenic River Estates was one of nine “paper plats” in our county, meaning that the property owner intended to subdivide and develop, but no infrastructure was installed. Thus, to the unassuming eye, one would never know that beautiful hayfield was destined to fill in with 51 houses, as roads and lawns replaced silos and crops. Someday, one might totally forget that the beautiful hayfield ever existed at all.

Here at the VARD office, we call this phenomenon “Landscape Amnesia” or not noticing the slow changes in the world around you.

There is a cure for Landscape Amnesia. Last Thursday, the Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously to vacate the plat for Scenic River Estates, eliminating those 51 lots and freeing up the landowner to either keep (literally) making hay off the land or propose a fresh development idea in the future. 

Over the past year, the Board of County Commissioners has vacated four expired developments totaling 79 lots on 313 acres, returning those acres to large parcels of agricultural lands.  According the most recent Teton Valley 2020 survey, 70% of you expressed support for vacation of unmarketable subdivisions. The simple fact that those developments were eliminated with the stroke of a pen rather than the blade of a bulldozer is an important reminder of how far removed many of the proposed subdivisions of the past decade are from becoming a reality on the ground.

Vacating paper plats is a great start to addressing the oversupply of lots in our community, but it’s definitely not a fix-all solution. Here’s why:  Vacating a plat does not mean that remote hayfield won’t be developed some day.  Under the current zoning and subdivision ordinances, Scenic River Estates could come back even larger in the next development boom—with as many as 80 lots on those remote 160 acres!  These large, rural developments fragment the landscape, disrupt working agriculture and wildlife habitat, and also cost the taxpayers of Teton County more money to service than neighborhoods in town.    

Now is the time to take the lessons learned from the last boom/bust cycle and craft a plan to grow smarter. This time, we can be proactive instead of reactive to growth.

Our community took the tremendous first step of drafting a new Comprehensive Plan – which has now been two years in the making. Next week, Teton County is holding a final two-day open house on the draft Comp Plan before that working draft is submitted to the County Planning & Zoning Commission.  Please stop by to view the fruits of this critically important effort.

Anna Trentadue

VARD Program Director / Staff Attorney

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