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Gateway PUD recommendation; various subdivisions including Big Hole Mountain Fly In Reserve; Jackson Hole Log Home CUP and zone change; Voluntary donations by developers

Gateway PUD: Amendment to Title 9 Public Hearing
The P&Z commission unanimously agreed to recommend for approval to the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) the P&Z's version of the proposed Gateway PUD ordinance (designed specifically for the rural northwest part of the county – see previous meeting reports for more detail).  They declined to make any amendments to their draft. VARD's main concern with the P&Z draft was that it changed the intent of the original Gateway draft presented by a collaborative group, representing a diversity of stakeholders.  The biggest changes by the P&Z were in regard to open space, the definition of which they watered down.  

Although the public comments offered on the P&Z's draft of the Gateway PUD ordinance were few, they were consistent. Jeff Klausmann of Intermountain Aquatics stated that the proposed draft by P&Z lowered the bar, was vastly different from what the collaborative group presented to them and was concerned that the document would not meet the intent and goal of comprehensive plan.  He stated that, “Being a resource person, it lacks the teeth to what was the goal for the landscape.”

Rob Cavallaro from Teton Regional Land Trust spoke with similar concerns to Mr. Klausmann. He stated that many developers in this area are working to preserve the landscape, which is a regional resource, and that it was puzzling that a lot of the language regarding resources was omitted in the P&Z draft.

Shawn Smith, a landowner, developer and another collaborative working group participant commented on confusing language in the draft, concerns with ensuring contiguous open space and said that the commissioners needed to look at open space as a regional resource, not just parcel specific.

Commissioner Nickell commented that it is not the developer that needs the simple language but the commission and staff – that the language needs to be easy to interpret. Commissioner Steele, who worked extensively with the collaborative group, stated that the language on open space requirements from the collaborative group was better than the P&Z's

Rocky Peak
The P&Z commission unanimously recommended approval of 2 lots on 11.5 acres in the Ag. 20 zoning located on east side of Big Holes. This PUD has 5 acre parcels in Ag. 20 zoning which speaks directly to the flaws of the PUD ordinance.

Diamond R Subdivision: Concept

This conventional subdivision in Ag. 20 zoning with 2 lots on 42.51 acres was recommended for approval with all in favor.

Deer Ridge Subdivision: Concept
Another conventional subdivision of 5 lots on 15.3 acres. The P&Z recommended approval with all in favor.

Saddle Bluff Estates Subdivision

The P&Z commission voted unanimously to approve the concept plan for Saddle Bluff Estates, proposed by Ken Chambers. Saddle Bluff is zoned Ag. 2.5 with 27 lots on 80 acres with average lot sizes of 2.5 to 3+ acre sites and with individual wells and septics. VARD spoke neutrally asking the commission to require a surrounding area map to ensure continuity and connectivity with adjacent property and open space.

Jackson Hole Log Homes CUP and Zone Change to C3

Jackson Hole Log Homes requested a conditional use permit (CUP), to operate a lumber plant, in conjunction with a commercial zone change (from residential/agricultural 2.5 to commercial) on 20 acres. The commission recommended approval by a 6 to 1 with conditions pertaining to: compliance with zoning ordinance, dust control, signage, lighting, landscaping and site plan approvals.  

The P&Z staff report indicated that the lumber mill was an historic use that wanted to expand. Given the surrounding Ag 2.5 zoning, the staff had concerns that granting the zone change to commercial would change the residential neighborhood.

VARD spoke and submitted comments opposed to the zone change. The requested uses could be allowed through a CUP without requiring a zone change in an area surrounded by Ag. 2.5.  VARD's position is that this area is not appropriate for commercial development, not in accordance with the comprehensive plan and that without a future land use map/preferred land use map it leaves the county and applicant vulnerable to legal challenge as indicated by existing case law.

Commissioner Nickell indicated that the commission needed to look at ordinances to deem appropriateness for zone change. However, common planning training directs decision makers that zone change decisions are typically based on the comprehensive plan and preferred land use map, which the county does not have in place at this time.

Commissioner Nickell also argued that the area was adjacent to manufacturing zoning across the highway (although it is not currently being utilized) and therefore the zone change was appropriate.  Commissioner Steele expressed concerns about the proposed retail store, compliance with the comprehensive plan, and spot zoning. Commissioner Bagley commented that even if the county did do a preferred land use map, what other area in the county would they identify as commercial other han where the log home operation was located. Commissioner Richardson stated that 23 businesses are already located between Driggs and Victor.

Big Hole Mountain Fly In Reserve
The commission had an anguished deliberation over the Big Hole Mountain Fly In Reserve, which ultimately led to the recommendation of denial by a 4 to 2 vote with Commission Nickell recused due to a conflict of interest. The Big Hole Mountain Fly In proposed 360 residential lots ranging in size from _ to _ acres on 792 acres in Ag. 20 zoning (rural reserve) in the northwest area of the county. The subdivision also requested a 13 acre commercial lot and private landing strip, which would require a conditional use permit (CUP).

Nelson Engineering presented the application. According to the proposal the 360 units would have private septics and be on a central water system.  The applicant argued that they met the requirements of the PUD ordinance and county staff agreed. The applicant also stated that they wanted to mitigate the impacts of the development with regards road and bridge, fire protection, schools, etc. The applicant indicated that they contracted with Biota to have a natural resource study conducted to address issues of wildlife corridors and habitat. They argued that the development “fits with the environment out there and is a good use of ridgetops” and that it was a “unique development.”

A number of neighbors and individuals representing development groups and organizations, including VARD, spoke in opposition to the project. VARD spoke to the inappropriateness of the density in the most rural parts of the county and that it equated to a city larger than Driggs. This again points to the problems with the PUD ordinance. VARD also raised the question of how much it would cost the county to provide services to a development so far from existing infrastructure, to which the developer replied that since most owners would be second home owners they would not require many resources.

Mike Potter and Roger Hoopes of River Rim Ranch argued that the development couldn't be approved because a CUP for an air strip could not be granted in a residential PUD according to the county's ordinance. Additionally Potter was concerned with how the PUD was being used and thought there were serious flaws, particularly in regard to density and underlying zoning. He stated that the adjacent River Rim property had 25 units on 550 acres or a 20 acre average. The Big Hole Fly In had average density of one unit per 2 – 2.2 acres. He stated that he is a property rights advocate but wanted to make sure regulations were followed correctly. Others had concerns about noise, necessity of another airstrip, wildlife, and forest access.

During the P&Z commission's deliberations there were a couple legal questions raised such as could the P&Z address whether the densities were appropriate since they met the requirement of the PUD and could they choose to table the application because they “did not like it”. Some commissioners also questioned whether the development was to code, although according to the P&Z staff it was. Concerns were raised on density, if the application was harmonious to the area, wildlife, flight patterns, noise, compliance with the comprehensive plan, expenditures to public services, open space configuration and meaning, septic tanks on small lots, suburban nature/design of development, ridgeline development, and flight safety. Under the argument of if the airstrip is harmonious to the area Commissioner Bagley questioned, “What is harmonious to that area? Just a few years ago a golf course wasn't harmonious.”

The Big Hole Fly In Reserve PUD application, and the P&Z deliberation, speak directly to the many problems with the PUD ordinance.  The P&Z deliberation demonstrates that most members of the commission do not believe the proposed PUD to be in the spirit of the comp plan or even the PUD ordinance but it can be argued (and was) that it fits “the letter of the law.”

Mountain Edge Subdivision
Mountain Edge proposing 29 lots on 102 acres was unanimously approved.

Targhee Hills
Commission approved 6 to 1 to approve Targhee Hills PUD consisting of 101 lots on 101 acres located south of Teton Creek.

The proposal included 54 acres of open space, 2.5 times the requirement, most of which is in the riparian corridor. The applicant is donating $15K toward Friends of the Teton River's comprehensive planning for Teton Creek, they will pay the $400 lot fee request to the county for county roads, met with the school district and will fund a new computer lab worth $30K, will underwrite software for reading at $11,661 and the Learn Key program at $4500. They also commissioned Biota to conduct a Natural Resources inventory.  They incorporated a number of their recommendations.

The P&Z looked at sewer hookup (tentatively with the City of Driggs), density, fencing, lighting, and open space design. Kudos were given to the developer for their contributions to the community, particularly the school district.

The Reserve at Badger Creek
Commission unanimously recommended approval of Reserve at Badger Creek consisting of 26 lots on 71 acres. The developer, at the request of VARD, deed restricted the wildlife corridor as permanent open space.

During the deliberation Commissioner Arnold asked the developer if he was willing to match his contribution to the county road fund to the school district, which the developer agreed he would do.

Voluntary donations by developers…
During the Badger Creek preliminary approval recommendation, the commission lauded the request by Commissioner Arnold for the school district contribution, but also had an extensive debate on the appropriateness of requesting donations during an approval process and whether this could be construed as coercive and extortion.  Commissioner Nickell stated that a developer called her to report that he had to meet with the Fire Board to explain why he wasn't making a contribution before the Fire District would sign his plat.

While voluntary and negotiated contributions to the county are great in many ways, the practice does sometimes border on extortion.  Most developers want to know exactly what is required of them, but in the case of requesting voluntary contributions it is often not clear what is “enough” and how far that determines whether a plat is passed or not.  Deveopment has impacts to the community and the P&Z's efforts to get developers to contribute towards the school district, fire district, etc. recognize this. Having a consistent, up front requirement for developers to pay towards the community costs of their development would be better.  But without a mechanism to calculate a development's impact and a way for the developer to pay for it, the county is vulnerable to the charge of not being fair and consistent.  Requiring developers to conduct Financial Impact Analyses for their developments would give the county information that could be used in conjunction with the county's own Capital Improvements Plan (one of the items on the county's planning task list) to ensure all developments pay their fair share.  

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