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What a Waste.

Newspaper: Teton Valley News and The Valley Citizen

What a waste.

As you may know, the Board of County Commissioners recently hired Mr. Stephen Loosli as a private planning contractor to produce the new County code. The Commissioners hired him in less than an hour. With no interviews. Or job description. For $50/hour. They have yet to give him a scope of work.

Here’s the catch: Teton County was already awarded a $313,000 HUD grant enabling Teton County, Victor, and Driggs to hire Code Studio, an experienced firm with 20+ years of professional consulting work to write their new zoning codes. Code Studio has written codes for communities throughout the country, including many rural Gulf Coast communities hit by Hurricane Katrina that had no prior history of zoning.

Victor and Driggs are taking full advantage of this opportunity, and have actively engaged with Code Studio. And what is the county doing? Mr. Loosli is producing the county’s code for $50/hour. He told the Commissioners he’ll work off Fremont County’s code which he wrote in 2011. 

Our code should be based on Teton County’s new Comprehensive Plan – not what was done previously in Fremont County. Also, I attended those Fremont County hearings. They were very contentious. Dozens of residents testified in opposition to the new code and for good reason: It reduced setbacks along fragile waterways like the Henry’s Fork. It drastically upzoned the entire county, allowing half-acre zoning along rivers. It allowed developers to pre-sell lots without first completing their infrastructure. Two years later, the Fremont code has been a flop, and is being re-written because Fremont County found it to be burdensome and hard to interpret.

The bigger problem is Kunz and Park’s wasting of tax payer dollars. At last week’s Commissioner meeting, I asked if our county would end up with two separate zoning codes – one written by Code Studio and paid for with grant funds, the other written by Mr. Loosli and costing $50 per hour?

I didn’t get an answer. Neither did the six Planning Commissioners who expressed similar concerns. Instead, I was told: “Mr. Loosli will be sure to consult with Code Studio along the way.” I don’t know what that means. And the County Commissioners don’t know what this process will cost.

To be fair, Park and Kunz did say that Mr. Loosli will inventory the code and identify where it conflicts with the new Comp Plan. That’s logical. However, the grant already includes an inventory by Code Studio. Commissioners Park and Kunz report that Mr. Loosli will simply advise the Planning Commission, but Loosli’s contract says he’s producing the code. Their words don’t match their actions.

This double payment is stunningly wasteful. Kunz and Park have entered uncharted territory when it comes to misusing tax dollars. This pattern is also reminiscent of the failed 2004 Comprehensive Plan process where the community crafted a thoughtful plan for future growth – and county leadership disregarded it.

Here’s what you can do: Stay engaged! Read the papers. Talk to your friends and neighbors. Your elected Commissioners serve you – so write to them and hold them accountable. Commissioners@co.teton.id.us.

Positive change is a tough, slow process, but it’s far better than repeating past mistakes.

Anna Trentadue

Program Director/ Staff Attorney

Valley Advocates for Responsible Development

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