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Board of County Commissioners vote on (1) changes to housing setbacks, (2) a new sign ordinance, and (3) the replat of the Willows Planned Unit Development (located along Teton Creek and Ski Hill Road).

Board of County Commissioners Vote on Setbacks, Signs, and the Willows

HEARING #1 – Code amendments to allow architectural projections to protrude into housing setbacks.

On a 2:1 split vote, the Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved an ordinance change that would allow portions of certain architectural features of buildings (ie: uncovered decks and porches, etc) to protrude into structure setbacks up to 6 feet. The ordinance would also allow underground installations such as septic systems, driveways, and retaining walls to be located within setbacks.  The Planning & Zoning Commission (P&Z) unanimously recommended approval of this ordinance at their November hearing.  Initially, there was debate between commissioners Benedict, Park, and Rinaldi as to whether the ordinance should be adopted. Commissioner Park wanted the hearing tabled so Teton County’s setbacks could be compared to the setbacks in Bonneville, Madison, Teton( WY), and Fremont Counties.  Planner Curt Moore pointed out that each county’s setbacks were different depending on the zoning district in that jurisdiction. Commissioner Rinaldi added that Teton County’s setbacks similarly varied in each zoning district, so there is no single county-wide standard for setbacks. Commissioner Benedict felt that what was being proposed here was less restrictive than the current standard and was simply a codification of the variance procedure already being implemented by the Teton County Building Department.

THE FINAL VOTE: Commissioners Rinaldi and Benedict voted to approve, while Park remained opposed.

HEARING #2 – Amendments to the sign code to restrict business signs to only properties that have the advertised business onsite.

For several months, the P&Z has been working on revisions to the sign code, particularly in light of a recent boom in offsite commercial signs being placed in the county's scenic corridor, advertising for offsite businesses as far away as Blackfoot, Idaho. At their November hearing, P&Z unanimously recommended approval of an amendment to the sign code which would restrict the use of business signs to the properties that have the advertised business onsite. (Note: The vote was unanimous, but P&Z Commission Colyer was absent from the vote, but did express his objections to the ordinance which he felt was really a stop-gap solution which could be better tailored to fit the needs of Teton County.)

Now, this amendment came for final hearing before the Board of County  Commissioners. The ordinance would “grandfather” all existing signs. It would also would permit onsite advertising  and onsite real estate signs. Landowners could also apply to the Idaho Department of Transportation for official offsite signage (ie: the blue tourism signs often seen along State Highways).

VARD's testimony:

VARD spoke in support of this ordinance as a means to protect the scenic corridor and curtail the spread of blight through unregulated signage. Many of the successes of the county’s sign code are manifested by all of the things that are NOT visible along the scenic corridor today. For example, because Teton County had the foresight to quickly prohibit large billboards once a few of them began to “pop up” in the rural county a decade ago, today’s scenic vistas are largely billboard-free. This is why it is important to quickly put these preventative measures in place to keep blight from spreading.

Public testimony:

Three Real Estate agents spoke in opposition to the ordinance. They would like to be able to post off-site directional signs to allow potential customers to locate houses that are for sale. Because many subdivisions have not converted to the county's new addressing system (adopted in 2008), it is very difficult for interested buyers to locate properties, especially bank-owned properties that are stuck on the old addressing system from which the original mortgage agreement originated. One agent, Harley Wilcox, also requested that the county allow for subdivision signs that are larger than 6-square feet in order to more effectively sell real estate – particularly entire subdivisions that are for sale.

Commissioner-elect Sid Kunz spoke in opposition to the ordinance as being harmful to the local economy and property rights.  Driggs planner Doug Self confirmed to the Commissioners that the City of Driggs disallowed offsite signs approximately ten years ago because people mostly used their cell phones.

Commissioner deliberation:

During deliberation, Bob Benedict expressed frustration that so many subdivisions had still not converted to the new county addressing. The county has spent approximately $100,000 to put up all the new street signs, and the lingering confusion creates a health and safety hazard.  “Right now, because subdivisions have failed to comply, we are working with the ambulance district as they literally struggle to find houses in times of an emergency. It’s a safety hazard.” Benedict hoped that passing the ordinance might motivate the subdivisions to finally come into compliance with the new county addressing.

Commissioner Park wondered why the banks have failed to match up their addressing with the county’s new GIS addressing system. He felt that the ordinance needed to go back to P&Z to clear up remaining confusion and write a more comprehensive revision to the sign code.

Commissioner Rinaldi pointed out that Teton County has spent the last two years working on economic development. The appearance of the county is important for getting to people to invest here.  She agreed that the proposed changes were not comprehensive and clearly functioned as a stop-gap, but were needed to quickly curtail the spread of offsite signs.

At this point in the deliberation, there was a bit of confusion as Jean Benedict and Commissioner-elect Sid Kunz both attempted to take the podium and add additional testimony into the record. The commissioners first rebuffed Benedict that the public  testimony portion of the hearing had closed. Kunz then argued that as a Commissioner-elect, he should have a special right to speak. After a bit of a standoff, the commissioners held firm to their hearing procedures and did not allow the additional comments. Said Rinaldi, “If we open public comment back up to you, then everyone gets to speak again and we’ll be here until tomorrow.”

As a compromise to Commissioner Park’s concerns, Rinaldi proposed amending the proposed ordinance so that only offsite business signs would be prohibited. Said Rinaldi, “directional real estate signs, which, for the record, I think look totally awful and constitute blight, would still be allowed.” One directional real estate sign would be allowed per property, and the county would still pursue a comprehensive re-write of the sign code.  Benedict added that “If we don’t implement this stop gap measure, there will be a flood of new signs that pop up to avoid this new code.”

THE FINAL VOTE: The revised ordinance passed unanimously with the change that one offsite directional real estate sign would be allowed per property.

HEARING #3 – The revised plat for the Willows Planned Unit Development

The Willows planned unit development (PUD) was originally platted in 2008 on 40 acres as 25 lots straddling both side of Teton Creek. Although not initially approved until 2008, the original Willows development application has been in the works since it was first submitted to the Driggs Planning & Zoning Commission (P&Z) in January of 2006, where it was recommended for denial based on flooding and environmental concerns. After several revisions and hearings, this PUD was finally approved on June 12, 2008. The original development agreement expired June 9, 2012 with almost no infrastructure built except the sewer line and berm along Ski Hill Road.

The developer has now applied to vacate this expired development, scale back the project, and replat it to develop only 10 lots along the west side of Teton Creek (along Ski Hill road). These 10 lots would be setback from the creek, the originally-proposed bridge over the creek would be eliminated, and the east side of the creek would be reserved for future development (but there would be no housing density entitlement in this reserved area). This is a very wet area – eight of the 10 lots will have building envelopes within the 100-year floodplain. (CLICK HERE to read the October 11, 2012 meeting report detailing how the Board of County Commissioners vacated this expired plat and conducted an initial review of this newly scaled-back proposal.)

Idaho Fish & Game recently submitted a letter on this proposal, commenting that the new 10-lot design could be considered an improvement so long as the eastern side of the creek was preserved and not accompanied by any kind of housing entitlement.

VARD spoke in support of this replatting proposal so long as the conditions recommended by the planning staff were carried through to the final approvals, which would address the concerns of Idaho Fish & Game.  Namely, the eastern side of Teton Creek must not carry any housing entitlements, and the timeline for completion of development (which began back in 2006) must not assume any additional extensions of time will be granted. Should the developer fail to complete these improvements on time, the county reserves the right to vacate the plat.

THE FINAL VOTE: The Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved the revised plat for the Willows with all of the county staff's recommended conditions.

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