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March 15th – Commissioners deny Stake permit

Stake Center Conditional Use Permit and Height Variance

(UPDATED MARCH 15, 2012)

March 15, 2012   HEARING REPORT: On a 2:1 split vote, the Board of County Commissioners has denied Blackfoot Farms' application for a conditional use permit. Blackfoot may file for judicial review, or instead, take the City of Victor up on their offer to relocate this facility within the city limits. Click here for more info.   

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MARCH 12, 2012   UPDATE: A final hearing on the CUP permit will be held before the Board of County Commissioners at 5:45pm on Thursday, March 15th. We inquired with the County Planning & Engineering departments as to why no new information is available for this final hearing. The best information we have is that Blackfoot Farms is going to contest some or all of P&Z recommendations made at the February 14th public hearing. See more information posted throughout this webpage below. 

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FEBRUARY 14th, 2012   HEARING REPORT: Click here to read our meeting report from the February 14, 2012 public hearing. Including details as to what recommended landscaping, lighting, traffic, and pathway changes P&Z made for this application. 

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What’s happening?

On Tuesday, February 14, 2012 the Teton County Planning & Zoning Commission (P&Z) held a public hearing to consider a request for a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) and a height variance for a proposed LDS Stake Center at Highway 33 and 7000 South. The building would be oriented to run parallel to the highway. The application has been submitted by Blackfoot Farms. The original plan proposes:

  • 22,000 square foot building with an additional suite of approximately 6,000 square feet
  • approximately 3.1 acres of parking lot
  • 26 light posts throughout the parking lot that are 18 feet tall
  • An approximately 31ft tall building, with a 70ft steeple. (Please note- steeple is a total of 70 feet, not 70 feet on top of the building.)
Is there any more updated information out there?
YES. Teton County has continuously added comment letters and submittals by the applicant to their website. Click here
 
Stake Center
(Image above shows proposed location and surrounding area. This building would be 1.5 miles north of the light in Victor and oriented to run parallel to Highway 33.) 

Why should I care? 

The CUP and variance request are significant because of the large footprint of the proposed building and the potential impacts to the neighborhood –  which is rural. It will be challenging for this proposal to conform to meet the existing Teton County zoning, dark skies, and height regulations.

What will this look like on the landscape?

To illustrate the relative size of this proposal compared to other familiar large structures in the community, we have compiled the following table:

Chart

Please note that all of these structures (and their accompanying urban impacts such as parking lots and lights) are built within the city limits, except for MD Nursery. This Stake Center is proposed in the far northern edge of the Victor Impact Area, in an area that includes almost 2 square miles of contiguous parcels that are in agricultural production (see aerial photo above)

Why does a Stake Center even need to apply for a CUP and a variance?
 
The proposed location for the Stake Center is zoned 2.5-acre Agriculture/Rural Residential. Churches are not allowed by right in this zoning district, but they may potentially be allowed via the Conditional Use Permit (CUP) process. See criteria below.
 
The county height limitation for buildings is 30 feet.  The plans call for a roof line just under 31 feet, and a 70-foot steeple.  In order to build over 30 feet or build the steeple, the Stake Center must first obtain a height variance. Recent correspondence from the applicant indicates they are willing to lower the height of the roofline to under 30 feet, but they argue that the steeple is needed as a part of their religious exercise.  This is currently being reviewed by the Teton County Attorney.   March 12th UPDATE: The applicant has pulled their variance request pending updates to the county height regulations, which the county is holding a work session to discuss on Tuesday, March 13th at 5:00pm.  
 
What specific issues need to be addressed at the hearing? 

1. Location

Churches, Wards, and Stake Centers are all valuable gathering spaces that add to our quality of life in Teton Valley. By nature, they are community-oriented buildings that are central to the heart and soul and fundamental character of our valley. The question here is not whether this Stake Center is valued and needed, but rather, whether this is the appropriate location for it. Community-oriented buildings belong in the community, where they can be integrated into the surrounding neighborhoods and easily accessed. The proposed site is neither in Victor or Driggs, and there is only one house within a square mile of this site. 

There is a lot of published research on the value of Churches, Wards, and Temples in neighborhoods, meaning they are assets to a community and increase property values. As well-maintained buildings with respectful visitors, these facilities equate with higher occupancy rates for nearby homes and increased property values. Put another way, they “anchor” neighborhoods and create a draw for housing. If built within the city of Driggs or Victor, would this Stake Center be an incentive for people to buy or build a home in town? As stated in the applicant’s narrative, this would be a Stake Center that serves as a meeting house for two Wards – which means, it will be an intensively used building. Someday, Blackfoot Farms anticipates commercial development along the highway and building housing around the Stake Center. This commercial development position is not congruent with the current Comprehensive Plan, but also, it is not clear that is it congruent with the goals and values outlined in the Comprehensive Plan that is currently in process.

Given the potential community benefits of locating the Stake Center in town rather than in an agricultural field out along the highway, is it in the public interest to grant a CUP to allow such a fundamentally community-oriented building to be built so far away from the community that it serves? 

2. Compliance with the Teton County Dark Skies Ordinance

Dark skies are an important community value that we all share. The Teton County Dark Skies Ordinance was updated just last year in order to better protect this important resource.  This CUP application calls for 26 lamp posts 18 feet tall.   

Many of you have asked, “Does this building comply with the Teton County dark Skies ordinance?” The answer is – it depends. On the one hand, the 26 street lamps that are proposed onsite have been designed by the applicant to be under 20-feet tall and shine downward with low-lumen bulbs to create a minimum of light trespass. (Lighting plan visuals are provided on the Teton County website.) On the other hand, the stated purpose of the dark skies ordinance is: to provide adequate lighting for safety and security that is not excessive. What is proposed here is a decidedly urban building with a  3+ acre parking lot in a decidedly rural area. The big question is: What amount of lighting is needed in this dark skies-sensitive location to provide safety and security without being “excessive” under the ordinance? There are many Wards and Stakes in our region that have less lighting than what is proposed here. For example, the Swan Valley Ward has only five small lamp posts for its outdoor lighting.  March 12th UPDATE: At the February 14th hearing, Blackfoot Farms presented an amended lighting plan with reduced lamp posts, but this was not submitted into the record. P&Z recommended further changes to this lighting plan. It is unclear as to whether Blackfoot will contest there recommended changes at the upcoming March 15th hearing.  

3. Connectivity

The applicant’s narrative raises objections to including a pathway connection to the Victor/Driggs rail trail, based on many arguments including that the location of this project is simply not walk-able or bike-able. Really, that is precisely the point: This community-oriented building is being proposed on a site that is nowhere near the community it proposes to serve. While it cannot be disputed that this location is not pedestrian friendly, failing to plan a connection that facilitates non-motorized connectivity leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Planning for the long-term in Teton Valley includes accommodating multi-modal transportation.  As a Stake Center that would serve as a meeting house for two Wards, this will be a heavily used building that is accessed by many people, in many different ways, several days of the week, for years to come.  It is simply responsible planning to design this type of major community facility to include a variety of transportation alternatives. Adverse environmental impacts, such as air pollution, would be mitigated by placing this community oriented building in the community which it will serve. March 12th UPDATE: It is unclear whether Blackfoot will contest the bike path at the upcoming March 15th hearing before the County Commissioners.

4. Traffic

While the incorporation of multi-modal transportation access may alleviate some of the vehicle traffic associated with the proposal, it is undeniable that a building with a proposed 3.1-acre parking lot is going to have some traffic impacts that need to be mitigated.  The applicant’s initial traffic study concluded that 7000 South would need to be widened and brought up to county standards, and turn lanes would need to be built on Highway 33 as well as at 500 West.   March 12th UPDATE: In light of public comment voicing traffic concerns over 6000S, 1000W and 500W at the Feb 14th hearing, the County Engineer has requested Blackfoot Farms address traffic impacts to these roads for the March 15th hearing, but this has not yet been submitted to the county. 

5. Screening

This building will be oriented to run parallel to Highway 33. As an almost 30,000 square foot building with a 30-31 foot roofline that is 200 feet long, the size and bulk of this building will be quite visible from all directions – particularly from the scenic corridor. Because the surrounding area is in agricultural production, there are almost no trees to help buffer the appearance of this building on the landscape. Several landscaping plans have been submitted, and at the Feb 14th hearing, P&Z recommended further changes to intensify the screening.  March 12th UDPATE: It is unclear whether Blackfoot Farms will contest P&Z's recommendations at the March 15th hearing before the County Commissioners.   

6. Stormwater Management

With a proposal for a paved parking lot of roughly 3.1 acres, managing stormwater runoff is a serious concern that needs to be addressed.  Without a plan for dealing with stormwater, potential concerns include impacts on groundwater, surface water contamination and sedimentation, and localized flooding.  According to the application that has been submitted, no special draining plan is needed on this site, however, common sense would dictate that that conclusion be afforded careful scrutiny. 

What are the criteria for granting a conditional use permit?

Some uses that are not automatically permitted in a particular zone can be allowed if a conditional use permit is granted. Granting a CUP is a discretionary decision, but there are specific criteria:

  1. The location of the proposed use is compatible to other uses in the neighborhood.
  2. The proposed use will not place undue burden on existing public services and facilities in the vicinity.
  3. The site is large enough to accommodate the proposed use and other features.
  4. The proposed use is in compliance with and supports the goals, policies, and objectives of the comprehensive plan.

What are the criteria for granting a height variance?

A “variance” is defined as a modification of the zoning code require
ents as to lot size, setbacks, parking spaces, height of buildings, or other ordinance provisions affecting the size or shape of a structure.  By both County ordinance and Idaho statute, a variance shall not be considered a right or special privilege, but may be granted to an applicant only upon showing of:

  1. Undue hardship because of characteristics of the site.
  2. That the variance is not in conflict with the public interest nor the general land or conditions in the vicinity of the application
  3. That the variance will not be a material detriment to public health, safety and welfare nor to neighboring property owners.

Where can I get more information?

  • CLICK HERE to view a sketch of the building, Blackfoot’s traffic study, stormwater plan, and all other application materials.  
  • CLICK HERE to view our January 31, 2012 letter to the Teton County P&Z.  

  • CLICK HERE to view our March 5, 2012 letter to the Board of County Commissioners.

If I've already submitted comments, should I come to the hearing?

Providing testimony in person is often a much more effective way to communicate with the decision makers.  We know this hearing involves sensitive issues, so we'd like to suggest that the most effective testimony at hearings is (1) courteous, (2) respectful of others, and (3) focused on primary issues. We have set up this webpage where you can review tips on how to provide effective and meaningful public testimony.

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