Teton County P&Z UNANIMOUSLY recommends approval of the new Comprehensive Plan
Teton County Planning & Zoning Commission takes comment on new Comp Plan and then deliberates the next night, unanimously recommending that the new Plan be passed.
About 120 people showed at Teton High School to submit comments to the Teton County Planning & Zoning Commission (P&Z) on the new Comprehensive Plan that has been in the works for 2+ years now. First, Teton County Planning Administrator Angie Rutherford spoke as the official “applicant” for the new Plan. She cited her staff report’s conclusion that the Comp Plan process had been fair, thorough, and that as the finished product of this effort, the draft Comp Plan should be adopted.
Input from Victor and Driggs…..
Then, the Mayor of Driggs and the Planner from Victor also spoke in support of the Plan. However, both cities still had some lingering concerns with commercial activities being allowed outside of the cities, which were later addressed in deliberations the next day (see details below).
About 65 people signed up to comment on the Plan, and the numbers were fairly evenly split between those in support and those opposed, with the exception of two neutral speakers. However, many people left the hearing by the time it was their turn to offer testimony. In total, approximately 23 spoke in support, and 30 spoke in opposition. Overall, the audience was calm and respectful with a few exceptions where emotions boiled over.
In general, the testimony in opposition followed common themes. Opponents felt that the new Plan was not fair and large landowners would shoulder the biggest burden and be entrapped into a life of farming. They felt the new Plan would devalue their property and that no one had the right to tell anyone else what they can do with their property. Some said it was too vague while others said it was too restrictive. There was consistent opposition to the scenic corridor and wildlife regulations. Some accused the county of rushing the process and holding this hearing during the summer when many farmers are tending to their crops. Some said the Plan should be revised for six more months. A few vented frustration at the changing demographic in Teton Valley and stated that those who were born here should have the most sway.
Likewise, the testimony in support followed common themes. Those is support thought the overall process had been fair and that the Plan was the product of compromise within the community. They did not think the process should continue longer. Wildlife and property value protections were a top concern. Some cited how the old Plan had been a total failure that lead to today’s depressed land values and huge oversupply in residential lots. They wanted Teton County to be proactive in planning for economic recovery and stabilized property values. A few also vented frustration at what they felt was opponents of the Plan blaming newcomers and being unwilling to compromise.
VARD executive Director Stacey Frisk spoke in support of the new Plan, calling attention to the volumes of public comment that have been submitted in support of preserving rural character and wildlife habitat.
The hearing was over by 8pm.
**What happened at the deliberations the next night**
The next night, the Planning & Zoning Commission gathered again at the high school auditorium to publicly deliberate on the Plan. About a dozen members of the public were in the audience. No public comment was taken.
Before the commission began to deliberate, Teton County’s Planning Administrator Angie Rutherford was first given an opportunity for rebuttal to the previous night’s public comment.
– She said that the Plan was not the work product of outside interests but was written by local consultant team Harmony Design with the help of their consulting partner AECOM. The Plan was guided by the vision and values of a broad cross section of the community, and was written and refined through a public feedback process.
– The goal of the plan was not to entrap farmers, but to provide them with increased options for their property.
– As for property values dropping because of the Plan, Rutherford pointed out that many rural land values have already dropped over 90%. The goal of the Plan was to restore these values to a more reasonable (non-inflated) future value.
P&Z’s response to comments submitted by Victor and Driggs.
Deliberations began with P&Z first addressing the comments submitted by Victor and Driggs. Both cities had offered letters of full support for the new Plan, except both Victor and Driggs emphasized that only residential uses should be allowed in the area of impact to promote infill of the cities from the core out. Both Victor and Driggs have several undeveloped “fields” inside their city limits which should be prioritized for commercial and/or industrial uses instead of sending businesses out into the impact area. P&Z decided unanimously that commercial retail development should be eliminated from the impact area and limited to within the cities of Victor, Driggs, and Tetonia.
Both cities has also expressed objections to “Heavy Industrial” activity around the towns and preferred to see “Light Industrial” activities instead. (As a point of reference, the American Planning Association defines “Heavy Industrial” as uses like radioactive waste containment and pesticide manufacturing.) Some members of P&Z thought it would be prudent to plan locations for even the most intensive industrial uses, no matter how unlikely or undesirable, so there would at least be a rational plan in place for these types of high-impact uses. As pointed out by county planning staff, “Heavy Industrial” was simply a matter of how you define it and can mean radioactive waste or farm equipment repair. The definition is also region specific. For example, in small scenic mountain towns, what might be considered a heavy and intensive industrial use might only be considered a light/medium industrial use in a large urban areas like Detroit or Pittsburgh. Size and scale of the use is also an important factor to take into account. The planning staff suggested utilizing a scaled-back definition of “Heavy Industrial” that would essentially meet the definition of “Medium” industrial, which would be more desirable for the cities. This was agreed to by P&Z.
How P&Z addressed public comments on the Plan.
Focused Growth: Commissioner Dustin expressed concern with the Comp Plan phrase: “The majority of the valley residents will live near the cities” which she thought would force people to live in town. Some opponents of the Plan had mentioned this at the prior night’s testimony. This was discussed briefly, but the rest of P&Z felt this was in keeping with the Plan’s overall goal to focus growth into the cities and preserve the rural county. They also clarified that the phrase will not force people to move from their homes or restrict their right to live where they choose; it will simply guide future planning strategies that focus future growth in the cities.
Family Lot Splits: Commissioner Arnold requested changes to the definition of “Family Lot Splits" so that the definition did not limit passage of farmland to only children who were in the business of farming. P&Z agreed to this change in definition, however, how a family lot split is implemented will be determined by the new ordinances that Teton County puts in place.
Wildlife Protections: P&Z was unanimous in not redacting the language in the Plan which called for strengthening the wildlife habitat protections in Teton County.
Future Lot Supply: Commissioners Dustin and Arnold expressed concern that the Plan’s call for eliminating 75% of the future potential lot supply of Teton County was too rigid and prescriptive. While the five other members of P&Z were in favor of this 75% recommendation, they were eager to still create compromise and consensus amongst the P&Z commission. After almost an hour and a half of debate and deliberation, five of the seven P&Z commissioners agreed to this new standard “Create a more sustainable supply of future potential lots based on projected population growth.” Both Commissioners Dustin and Hill remained opposed to the new standard but for seemingly opposite philosophical reasons. This new strict standard is simply a slightly different way of approaching the residential lot oversupply problem in Teton County. A “sustainable” supply of residential inventory is one in which supply = demand. Here, the new recommendation will assess future growth rates for Teton County and establish a future supply that more closely meets demand.
Density Bonuses: The Commission unanimously opted to eliminate language that would allow for density bonuses in exchange for clustering housing in a residential development.
What was the final vote?
The vote to approve was unanimous, with one caveat. About 20 minutes before P&Z wrapped up their work, Commissioner Dustin excused herself from deliberations. When the time came for a final vote shortly thereafter, P&Z realized that she could not be located. Several minutes of confusion ensued as staff circled the high school attempting to find her. She was ultimately contacted by phone and informed the commission to vote without her.
Commissioner Arnold made the motion to recommend approval of the Comp Plan to the Board of County Commissioners with the changes recommended by P&Z as outlined above. It was unanimously passed by Commissioners Arnold, Colyer, Hensel, Hill, Johnson, and Larsen.
What happens next?
The Comp Plan will now go to a FINAL(!!) hearing before the Board of County Commissioners. This hearing is set for 5pm on Thursday, August 23rd, at Teton High School in Driggs. We will keep you posted.