The Willows planned unit development is vacated, and the new replat is tabled, while 30 additional lots in Blue Indian Subdivision are approved on a 2:1 split vote.
Although it may seem like subdivision activity has ground to a standstill in Teton County, there are still a few more developments slowly moving through the subdivision approvals process, grandfathered under the old version of the Teton County code. This month, the Board of County Commissioners dealt with two of them: The Willows (located just off Ski Hill Road) and Blue Indian located approximately 6 miles west of Driggs at 6000W and Bates Road. What made this hearing so interesting is that in both cases, the developers of these subdivisions acknowledged that their subdivisions were currently unmarketable, but they felt the best path was to continue forward with their developments even though the infrastructure may sit for decades. However, each developer had a different strategy for why proceeding forward was their best option. (Read below)
A brief history of The Willows:
Back in 2009, the Willows planned unit development (PUD) was originally platted as 25 lots on 40 acres along both sides of Teton Creek at Ski Hill Road. However, the original development application has been in the works since it was first submitted to the Driggs Planning & Zoning Commission (P&Z) in January of 2006, where it was recommended for denial based on flooding and environmental concerns. After several revisions and hearings, this PUD was approved on June 12, 2008. The original development agreement expired June 9, 2012 with almost no infrastructure built except the sewer line and berm along Ski Hill Road.
A brief history of Blue Indian:
Blue Indian is a traditional subdivision located in what seems like a remote agricultural area, but the property is actually situated in an island of land that is currently zoned Ag2.5, meaning that it can be developed with a higher housing density housing than what might be apparent to the causal observer who sees acres of rolling farmland far off into the distance. Phase 1 (ten lots) was platted in 2009 with all of the required infrastructure presently installed, but no homes are built. The development agreement required that the infrastructure for the remaining phases of Blue Indian (30 lots on 98 acres) be completed on an annual incremental basis. Right across the street from Blue Indian is Scenic River Estates, which is an expired development that was vacated by the Board of County Commissioners earlier this summer. The Board of County Commissioners has currently vacated 5 subdivisions, eliminating 197 lots from 510 acres.
What’s happening with The Willows today:
The developers of The Willows have now applied to vacate this expired development and replat a portion of the project. Currently, the proposal is to develop only the west side of Teton Creek (along Ski Hill road) with ten lots that are setback from the creek, eliminate the bridge over the creek, and reserve the east side of the creek for future development. This is a very wet area; eight of the ten lots will have building envelopes within the 100-year floodplain. The City of Driggs has recommended approval of this design, but it must go to final review before the Board of County Commissioners because the property is located in the Driggs Impact Area.
What’s happening with Blue Indian today:
The developer has now applied for final plat approval of phase II (30 lots on 98 acres). With the exception of the subdivision roads that have been installed, the entirety of the property is currently being farmed.
County Commissioners vacated The Willows plat and tabled the new replat:
First item on the agenda was the vacation of the old plat for The Willows which included 25 lots on 40 acres, straddling both sides of Teton Creek. This passed unanimously. Then came the application for a replat of this project. The developers of The Willows acknowledged that today there isn’t a market for their subdivision lots, but they felt trapped by their present situation. By replatting, they sought to remain grandfathered under the older, less restrictive development ordinances, but they did not want to have to break ground and begin installing the required subdivision infrastructure which would greatly disturb the fragile Teton Creek corridor and likely languish for decades because the lots are not marketable. Commissioners Rinaldi and Benedict commented on the futility of installing infrastructure only to have it slowly fall into disrepair. Both emphasized that the better approach here would be to wait and design and plat a subdivision when the market is ripe. Because the current plat was designed under an out-of-date FEMA floodplain map, the commissioners unanimously tabled the application pending a new design using the current floodplain map, and also comments from Idaho Fish & Game about mitigating impacts to wildlife.
County Commissioners approved Blue Indian on a 2:1 split vote:
The developer of Blue Indian acknowledged that there wasn’t a present market for these subdivision lots, but he had already invested so much money into acquiring the land, building the initial infrastructure, and paying down the $2.2M loan on the land, that he felt he had no way to recover any of his original investment other than to proceed forward with the remaining 30 lots. He acknowledged that the roads and other infrastructure would need to be maintained for years if not decades in order to keep them up to county standards and ready to accommodate a home in the event that a someone purchased one of these lots and applied for a building permit to construct a house. (As a point of reference, unused subdivision roads that fall into disrepair is a growing problem in many prematurely platted Teton County subdivisions.) He would maintain the roads in the mean time, and he wanted to keep the land in productive agriculture for as long as possible. Commissioners Benedict and Park voted to approve these final 30 lots. Commissioner Rinaldi dissented, just as she did back in 2009 when phase 1 was originally approved for the reason that these lots will further contribute to the oversupply of vacant lots in remote rural areas that are expensive to service. At this hearing, she also expressed concern for subdivision infrastructure falling into disrepair from nonuse.