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Mahogany Ridge Road & Traffic; Clawson CUP and Zone Change

2nd Mahogany Ridge Hearing: P&Z unanimously decides that 500W will stay put!

Topics covered at the September hearing were the issue of the developer’s request to re-route 500W (the largest road on the west side of our valley) towards the Foster Slough wetlands, and a review of the developer’s traffic study. Once again there was a wonderful public turnout.  Fortunately there were more chairs set up and everyone was able to get into the room and grab a seat this month!  About 16 members of the public spoke at the hearing. There were no comments offered in favor of the project with each person choosing to speak either from the neutral position or in opposition to the proposal.  It is worth noting that the “neutral” speakers offered significant criticisms of the planned development.  

VARD gave a detailed presentation on why hearings on the development should not proceed until the county has greater assurances that the land is secured and available for the project: there are large parcels of land platted in this development that are currently up for sale, there are deed restrictions on other parcels of land limiting housing density, and the developer has not obtained letters from several landowners authorizing the inclusion of their land in the project (as required by our county ordinances.) Much of the unsecured land is located in the sandhill crane preserve that the developer is proposing – which raises the issue of whether the crane preserve will ever be established.

Attorneys representing the landowners who placed deed restrictions on 3 parcels of land in the project, spoke at the hearing. They had previously served an objection to Teton County on August 30, 2008. The attorneys cautioned the county against proceeding with this development because they would enforce the deed restrictions, thus invalidating the project. The P&Z commission chose to continue proceeding with the hearing, thus requiring the landowner to move forward with legal action to enforce the deed restrictions.  (Commissioner Nickell was not present for any part of the September 9th hearing).  

VARD disagrees with the P & Z’s decision to continue moving forward with the hearing in the face of the deed restrictions.  It is a detriment to our democratic and legal process to proceed in this fashion.  The burden to resolve deed concerns should be on the developer from the outset.  It should be the developer’s responsibility to prove the restrictions are invalid before the application is heard.  Instead, the P & Z is essentially giving developers the green light to ignore valid restrictions unless a private party is willing to shell out legal fees to defend the covenant.  Any landowner of moderate means who wishes to protect their land from future development should be especially concerned by this decision.

The P&Z commission then decided to give the developer until next month to obtain all of the required letters of authorization from landowners in the project. He must get signatures from every person whose name is on the deed for each parcel of land. Where land is owned jointly, he will need the permission of every landowner on the title to commit the land to the project. The developer should have provided all of this information to the county before ever being placed on the hearing schedule in the first place.

The lack of full authorization for each parcel included in the project is another core concern with this proposal.  VARD applauds the P & Z for taking a firm stand to require all authorizations before the next hearing.  At the same time, it is inexcusable to allow a project to have moved this far along in the process without some of the most basic elements of the application being completed.  Imagine how you might feel if the county were to hear a developer’s proposal to subdivide a large area that included YOUR land before you’d reached an agreement with the developer.  It might give the developer quite a bit of leverage over holdouts, but is that what government ought to encourage?  

The commission then unanimously voted to NOT allow the developer to relocate 500W towards the wetlands. Relocating this road was a central feature of the project, and now the master plan will have to change significantly.

The commission had a number of criticisms when reviewing the developer’s traffic study. For instance, the study was conducted for 2 hours over 2 days in the middle of February, it assumed 90% second home ownership, and it also left out some major intersections. Most alarming, was that the study defied common sense and concluded that virtually no road mitigations were needed for this project.  In part, the P & Z recognized that a traditional traffic study fails to capture many of the impacts of the project that are important to the community, such as road quality and safety.  The commission requested additional traffic engineering information to more accurately reflect the potential impact of the project on our community.

Wildlife and natural resources impacts will now be the first item on the October 14th agenda. It will likely take up the entire 4:30 –7:30 time slot.  If those issues are completed, the P & Z will move on to water and sewer issues.  

Of particular interest to VARD is the issue of what will happen next.  Because the county did not approve the relocation 500W, the developer will now need to re-plat his development. (The current plat that the developer has been presenting depicts 500W as being eliminated with all thru traffic diverted along 400W.) We believe that the public has right to see this new plat map before the October hearing.  If you share these same concerns, and believe that the new plat should be provided before we have another hearing, please contact the planning Administrator Patrick Vaile at pvaile@co.teton.id.us and express this to him.

Clawson Townsite: P&Z grants Teton Coffee CUP but denies commercial zone change.

The commission granted a conditional use permit (CUP) to Derek Dement to run a home-operated coffee roasting and wholesale distribution business. The business will be located at 509 North on Highway 33. VARD spoke neutrally about this application, stating that this kind of discrete, homespun business is an appropriate use of a CUP. Our concern however, is that this business does not expand into a full-blown retail location out in our scenic corridor. The P&Z commission (except Commissioner Heileson) voted to grant this CUP with strict limitations on expansion, signage, and landscaping.  (Commissioner Nickell was not present for any part of the September 9th hearing).  

The commission then addressed a zone change request by John Hansford (of Drawknife Billiards) to re-zone his land in the scenic corridor across the road from the Clawson townsite to a C3 or C2/C3 zone. VARD spoke against the zone change because it would constitute spot zoning along our scenic corridor. Because the Drawknife is a grandfathered, non-conforming commercial use, the county is actually powerless to change or restrict the current use of the land.  In addition, the Drawknife may expand its business throughout the entire 3-acre parcel.  The only restriction is that no significant change to a different non-conforming use is allowed.  

In contrast, had a zone change been granted, the county would lose the ability to deny any use of the land allowed in the C3 or C2/C3 zone even if it were to conflict with the preservation of the scenic corridor.  The P&Z commission (except Commissioner Wagener) voted to deny this zone change request, and we commend the commission for holding firm in their commitment to not allow commercial spot zoning in our scenic corridor.  The decision by the P&Z ensures that whatever use of that land eventually replaces the Drawknife or its successor will continue to benefit the local community and be an appropriate use within the scenic corridor.  

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