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Emergency moratorium resolution public hearing

After deciding on Monday morning to proceed with the process of considering an emergency moratorium, on Monday evening the commissioners held a public hearing in the high school auditorium, which was almost filled to capacity.  Commissioner Alice Stevenson presented the resolution and explained her reasons for introducing it, basically reinforcing the 14 points included in the resolution and explaining that it was the cumulative effect of the total that amounted to an emergency. She also explained the lengths she went to to ensure that the public was properly notified. The resolution and other supporting documents can be read on the county website http://mycommunity.net/TetonCounty.nsf/Main?OpenFrameset

After Commissioner Stevenson’s introduction, for nearly 5 hours the commissioners took public testimony, rotating 5 speakers for the resolution, 5 neutral and 5 against, although after the first two rounds there was no one speaking neutrally. Kathy Rinaldi, VARD’s executive director, made the first statement in support of the moratorium, which can be found on our website – just click on What’s New on the home page www.tetonvalleyadvocates.org.

The comments by those in support of the resolution tended to focus on how rampant growth necessitated a pause to get better tools in place, before irreparable damage was done to the county and its residents.   It was also pointed out that 6 months was not very long, especially with a 4-5 month backlog in processing development applications, and would not constitute much of a brake on development.  Those opposed to the resolution contended that the moratorium would be catastrophic to the local economy and hurt landowners in the process of selling their land.  There were many comments about property rights and some accused the commissioners in support of the resolution of being socialists and/or fascists.  Many remarks were made to the effect that if there was a problem then it was the commissioners’ job to fix it and that the moratorium was somehow indicative of laziness or lack of leadership on their parts.  Although some argued that there were no problems facing the county when it came to development, many acknowledged that the findings in the resolution were true but questioned whether there was a less drastic way to address the problems.  Those speaking in support of the resolution were outnumbered by those in opposition, who seemed to represent many in the process of subdividing land and the “old guard” of county government. 

After the public comment period the commissioners deliberated among themselves with Chairman Larry Young beginning by explaining how he had tried to address the mounting issues facing the county without a moratorium but had been opposed at every turn.  He said that he had proposed fee increases for more staff and the suggestion had been opposed . He also said that there had been a moratorium in 1993 that no one even remembered anymore and property values had gone up, not down as people had predicted then and were predicting now.  He answered those who had been arguing against the moratorium on the basis of it creating instability by saying that the main source of instability is the county’s allowable densities under the PUD ordinance, which the P&Z commission has acknowledged is flawed. 

Commissioner Mark Trupp spoke passionately against the resolution saying that there was no emergency and challenged both Larry Young and Alice Stevenson with quotes from their campaign literature asserting that using the emergency process to make this decision did not constitute open government.  He kept referring by name to specific people who stood to have land sale contracts jeopardized by the moratorium. 

Mark Trupp made a motion to reject the emergency moratorium resolution, which was seconded by Chairman Young to bring to a vote and failed. Alice Stevenson then proposed amendments to the resolution removing conditional use permits from the moratorium and pending applications in the cities areas of impacts.  There was some confusion as amendments were discussed and the planning administrator and county attorney weighed in.  The county attorney, Bart Birch, did not agree with the moratorium and said he did not feel comfortable defending it in court. However, it should be said that moratoriums have been used extensively in Idaho and none have been successfully challenged. Attorney and Teton Valley Alliance representative Sean Moulton indicated that the county should expect a legal challenge.

Shortly before 1am the resolution was passed by a vote of 2-1 with Mark Trupp dissenting.

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