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County Commissioners take on the zombies!

County Commissioners take on the zombies!

Yesterday, the County Commissioners took a huge step forward in grappling with the glut of zombie subdivisions in Teton County. The goal of this work meeting was to assess the state of development in Teton County and develop a strategy for dealing with expired/defunct subdivisions. New county planner Angie Rutherford presented a thorough statistical analysis of all the developments recorded in the unincorporated county. Click here for a review of her stats. The work meeting was facilitated by Bill Collins of Collins Planning Associates.

How big is the problem?

All 3 commissioners agreed that problem of defunct developments proved to be larger than predicted and immediate action was needed:

  • There are 38 subdivisions (or PUDs) with incomplete infrastructure, totaling 3,596 units on 12,523 acres.
  • Sixteen of these developments have both an expired development agreement and no financial surety.
  • In addition, thirteen of these incomplete developments have 0% of their infrastructure done and 0% lots sold.
  • Of all the 9,334 recorded subdivision lots in the rural county, approximately 75% (7,005) of these lots are vacant.
  • Of the 2,245 developed lots in the rural county, it is unknown what percentage of them are incomplete or unoccupied homes. 

How the heck did this happen?

Commissioner Rinaldi pointed out that most projects have stalled out because they cannot obtain financing to finish their infrastructure and lot sales have dried up. Now, they are turning into blight. Commissioner Young inquired as to the legal precedent regarding expiring development agreements. County Attorney Spitzer explained that the county has broad police powers to take action for the protection of public health, safety, and welfare. This issue has reached a critical tipping point. The county needs to develop a system for notifying developers of their expiring entitlements and facilitate a replatting/renegotiation process where applicable. Bill Collins emphasized the locational problems with some of these developments and the need for large-scale regional problem-solving.

Also in attendance was Bill Coleman of Land Equity Partners who pointed out that the amount of debt carried by each development directly affects the options available to the landowner/developer. Many developers would likely be willing to exchange density and their ability to pre-sell lots in exchange for more time to complete their project. Coleman furthered that clear expectations and consequences should be outlined in each re-negotiated development agreement.  Real estate broker Julie Bryan agreed that action must be taken; it’s not good to have so much Teton County land for sale or in foreclosure. Because homes can now be bought for pennies on the dollar, new construction on all of these vacant lots simply isn’t going to happen until the current glut of vacant homes is absorbed.

So what happens next?

First, the County will be sending formal notice to all developers in breach of their development agreements that they have 60 days to either contact the County or fulfill their original contractual obligations. Secondly, Rutherford, Spitzer, and Collins will immediately begin drafting a facilitated re-platting process for those developers who wish to take advantage of it.  This process will be brought for review before the County Commissioners.  

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