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PUD repeal rejected; Victor area of impact expansion; Title 9 changes

PUD repeal hearing
The most contentious item the P&Z considered at the request of the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) was whether or not to rescind the Planned Unit Development (PUD) ordinance.  VARD has long advocated for the need to change the PUD ordinance which in its current form allows for development patterns that undermine community assets and  land uses identified in the comprehensive plan such as wildlife habitat, agriculture, rural character and open space.  Two of the main problems with the PUD are the densities allowed (in some cases as much as an 1100% increase over the underlying density) and a weak definition of open space.  The definition of open space is key  because as it is defined now developers count as open space areas that do nothing to preserve wildlife habitat, working agricultural land or rural character. For example, the “open space” can be configured in thin strips of land between lots.  One way to ensure that open space is meaningful would be to require a PUD to hire an expert naturalist/wildlife biologist to make a thorough inventory of the natural features and resources of the property and design the project around that information.

Concerns about replacement PUD ordinance
Many of the people who spoke in opposition of the repeal were concerned that there was not something to take the place of the existing PUD, and that with no other choice developers would proceed with creating cookie cutter standard subdivisions. While that is a possibility, VARD believes that it is a remote one considering how many standard 2.5-acre subdivision lots there are on the market.  At any rate, this seems like a weak argument for continuing to encourage poorly designed PUDs.   Everyone is in agreement that the existing PUD ordinance needs to be changed, and it seems at this point that the cleanest way to do that is to rescind the existing ordinance, take a deep breath and as soon as possible put a better conceived plan in place that carries out the vision of the comprehensive plan.

TVA's Nolan Boyle attacks commissioners
Teton Valley Alliance (TVA) Executive Director Nolan Boyle, during the public comment period for the PUD repeal, pressed a full attack on Commissioner Stevenson and Commissioner Young ranging from email exchanges that the TVA claims violate open meeting law to leveling accusations that bringing in a professional planning firm, Clarion & Associates, to help with planning for the county amounted to bringing in a “hired gun to tell you how to live your life”.

VARD certainly disagrees with Nolan Boyle's statement, which betrays a lack of understanding about how hiring a planning consultant works.  These are professional planners with no axe to grind when it comes to looking at the valley's issues and problems. They will give the citizens of Teton Valley their opinion on steps that could be taken to realize the vision of the comprehensive plan but it is our job to either accept their advice or not.  Given the magnitude and complexity of Teton County's growth, hiring professional planners for help is wise and ultimately will save the county mistakes, time and money, especially since private donations are being used to cover the costs of hiring Clarion & Associates.   To repeat the analogy we used last week, if you are unfortunate enough to have cancer or heart problems you seek out the specialized knowledge of an oncologist or cardiologist when deciding on appropriate treatment.   To come up with a better plan to manage growth it makes sense to seek the advice of professional planners who have experience and technical expertise in planning for growth.  

P&Z members frustrated over request to consider repeal
Some of the P&Z commissioners expressed frustration that they were being asked to appeal the PUD after having just put work into a revised Gateway PUD, which the BOCC decided not to pass.  There is no question that the P&Z has put in many hours of work looking at fixing our current PUD situation and they should be commended for their work. Whatever shape the final version of a new PUD takes, the P&Z's work will undoubtedly be incorporated in some fashion into the final document so they should in no way feel that their efforts have been made in vain or are not appreciated.

The P&Z made a motion not to recommend rescinding the PUD ordinance by a vote of 4-1 with commissioner Hopkins being the lone dissenting vote and P&Z chairman Andy Richardson abstaining.  Commissioner Sabra Steele was not in attendance.

Victor area of impact expansion

The first item on the agenda for the evening was the proposed expansion to the Victor Area of Impact and changes to the impact area agreement between the county and city of Victor.

The impact area is a designated area around a city into which the city expects to grow over the next 5 years.  Because that area is outside of the city limits but does impact the city, the city and county have a written agreement whereby the county consults the city on planning decisions in that area.   The City of Victor's reasoning for wanting to expand their impact area is that they have outgrown their current impact area (through a recent upsurge in large annexations) and want to expand it in order to have more control of growth around the city.

However, almost everyone who spoke on the matter stated that the proposed expansion area was too large.  As proposed, it would reach from the forest boundary to the south and east, west to 600 yards past 200 W. and north to 600 S. The P&Z in their deliberations echoed the idea that the proposed expansion was too large.  The P&Z recommended the revised impact area agreement for approval but motioned for the expansion of the Victor impact area to be smaller in scope, though they did not recommend the specifics of a new boundary.

Title 9 changes
Planning Administrator Kurt Hibbert apologized to the commission for not having the most up to date copies of the proposed changes to Title 9 in their packets ahead of time.  Unfortunately this also meant that a copy of the final proposed changes under consideration was not available for the public to view ahead of the meeting either.

The changes to Title 9 of the county code have to do with the way that development applications are processed by the planning and zoning department and the approval process before the P&Z and BOCC.  For example, it has been unclear when in fact an application is considered “complete”: when all the documents are submitted by a developer, when the staff report is done, etc.  It was decided at the meeting that an application will be considered complete when the Planning Administrator declares it complete.  

Another major change to Title 9 is that the concept stage of the process will now be an administrative process, and will not be a public hearing. The developer will meet with the P&Z administrator to see if the “concept fits with the county regulations”. If it does then the developer will prepare to present the preliminary plat at a public hearing.   
This allows the public to comment on a more detailed application at a stage when more specifics can be required of the developer. In the past the P&Z Commission has reviewed a plat at the concept and preliminary stage.   The P&Z will now see a proposed development for first time at Preliminary stage. This change means that the P&Z does not automatically have another meeting in which to follow-up on the application and questions raised at the concept stage.   From VARD's perspective one challenge for the commissioners under this new system is that they are going to need to get comfortable continuing a preliminary hearing from one meeting to the next until they believe that they have all the information that they need to make a well-informed decision.  

There was also a lot of conversation around the one time land split provision which allows families to give their children a piece of land for a home but which is being abused to create subdivisions.  Key changes made to this provision of Title 9 include that the size of the lot to be split must be at least 20-acres and that the lot created by the split be at least 2.5 acres. One potential problem with this scenario is that if you start with a 20 acre piece of ground in the Ag-20 zone and split out a 2.5 acre piece you have now created two non-conforming lots.

The P&Z recommended approval for the changes to Title 9 as sent down to them by the BOCC with some additional changes recommended.

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