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County P&Z considers re-plat of Canyon Creek

County P&Z Not Impressed By Canyon Creek Re-plat

What happened?

Canyon Creek was the first development to apply for a re-plat under the newly-adopted Teton County re-platting ordinance which facilitates the redesign of zombie subdivisions.

What's Canyon Creek, and where is it?

Canyon Creek Planned Unit Development (PUD) is one of 14 “paper plats” in Teton County, meaning that a plat has been recorded, but 0% of the improvements are complete, and the property still looks like raw land (leading many valley residents to not realize there is actually a subdivision platted on the property.) Canyon Creek was originally approved in early 2009 as a 350-lot ranch style resort on roughly 2,620 acres including 15 acres of commercial uses, a horse arena, and lodge. Now, just 3 years later, it has become very apparent to P&Z how inappropriate Canyon Creek is with the surrounding area.  Straddling Madison and Teton Counties, the location of this development is possibly the most remote subdivision in Teton County.  Wildlife impacts and the logistics of providing services to such a remote area have always been a top concern.  In exchange for an extension of time until 2032, the developer proposed to reduce the number of lots from 350 to 270.  As the developer’s attorney explained, this was really was a request for more time to allow them to market and hopefully sell the property as a 2,700-acre ranch instead of having to break ground on phase 1 of the PUD.

How was Canyon Creek was ever approved in the first place?  

This question was posed by both the new county planning staff as well as several P&Z commissioners.  Back in 2007-2009, Canyon Creek was actually the smallest of 3 huge PUDs in the approvals pipeline along with Mahogany Ridge (1,200 units on 3,500 acres) and J Lazy H Ranch (1,100 units on 6,400 acres).  There were also several other 100+ lot subdivisions in process as well.  Even as late as February of 2009, there were still 5,500 lots pending approval on 15,000 acres, and P&Z was slammed with hearings where it was not uncommon for 4-5 subdivisions to be considered on an evening agenda.  When P&Z recommended final plat approval for Canyon Creek back in June of 2008, it was the last of 4 subdivisions on the jam-packed hearing agenda. Canyon Creek was not actually heard until 9:15pm, and P&Z deliberations lasted until the late hours of the night.  There were also several administrative changes during the 2-year entitlement process of Canyon Creek, including 3 different planning administrators, 2 county commissioner administrations, and total turnover in county planning staff.  Needless to say, Canyon Creek was just one of dozens of proposals in the development tidal wave that hit Teton County over the last decade.

What did P&Z decide to do?

The big question before P&Z at last week’s hearing was whether they wanted to postpone breaking ground on Canyon Creek in exchange for the elimination of 70 lots and the hope that a potential buyer would purchase the land for conservation. Obviously, there are no guarantees that a conservation buyer will ultimately appear, but the developer hoped the property would be sold in the next 1-2 years.  That said, the developer’s attorney emphasized that his clients would absolutely break ground on the resort development in order to preserve their development rights if they were not given an extension of time. To this, several P&Z commissioners commented that it felt like the developer was “playing poker” with the process. This was a project that should never have been approved in the first place, and some expressed a desire to see a drastic reduction in the project, like only a dozen large ranch lots.

Overall, the commissioners felt that reducing 70 lots in exchange for an extension until 2032 was not a significant benefit. Also, the re-platting ordinance requires the applicant to make the compelling argument that the re-platted design will provide significant environmental and economic benefits. Here, the developer has submitted a 1-page plat and a 1-page summary of the proposal, which P&Z thought was inadequate information to make any kind of an informed decision.

What happens next?

It’s not entirely clear what will happen next. The developer may come back to P&Z in September with another re-plat proposal. He may also request a 12-month extension of the original proposal to give him more time to sell the property.  (County ordinances allow for a 1-time extension request of up to 12 months time.) We will keep you posted.

CLICK HERE to read the original re-plat application, county staff report, and our comment letter.

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