High Noon Teeing off in JHN&G Article
April, 11 2023
A Florida-based development firm hosted a private dinner and offered other perks to a select few Teton Valley residents in hopes of getting their support for a luxury resort being planned for the base of the Big Hole Mountains.
Members of Valley Advocates for Responsible Development said they repeatedly asked the luxury resort developer, The Vault Home Collection, for a public neighborhood meeting to educate the eastern Idaho community about plans for High Noon Ranch, a 532-acre proposed development at the base of the Big Hole Mountains in Teton Valley.
The property borders national forest to the west and more than 860 acres of conservation easements to the east and north. It also sits in the center of an elk migration corridor on historic valley farmland.
Development plans include 39 residential building sites for luxury homes, 62 homes that would be constructed as rentals, additional employee housing and a commercial dude ranch operation.
Instead of a public forum, critics say the company wined and dined a select few people at the end of March, asking them afterward to express support for the project. In addition to dinner, they were offered lift tickets at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, massages and free hotel stays in Teton Village.
Developer Matt Shear defended the private dinner and perks to the Jackson Hole Daily, saying he and his team don’t know many people in Teton Valley and with the help of a friend, were able to bring those community members to the table. He said follow-up emails were sent out trying to answer more questions after the dinner.
“We can’t control every human being’s emotional response,” Shear said of community members becoming upset after the dinner was over. “This is an $80 million project and we have a clear vision. We’re not here to shove anything in anyone’s face. We think this type of wellness center/dude ranch would be perfect for the valley and have the least impact on the land.”
High Noon Ranch is scheduled for a public hearing starting at 6:30 p.m. today before the planning commission at the Teton County, Idaho, courthouse (first floor). Public comment for the project has been closed with a bulk of written comments indicating a lack of support for the project because of density and commercial operation plans listed by residents.
The Teton County planning staff has made a recommendation that the Vault Home Collection application be continued until the development team can answer more questions about the project including providing clear uses for the dude ranch, provide a better understanding of where and how water will be supplied to the area, as well as meet with a variety of stakeholders, including the U.S. Forest Service.
Victor, Idaho, resident Nikki Kaufman was one of a dozen Teton Valley residents invited to Spur at the Teton Mountain Lodge and Spa in Teton Village at the end of March. Kaufman also serves as the vice chair of the nonprofit Shelter JH, a Jackson-based nonprofit that advocates for positive housing solutions. She said she had hoped to get a better understanding of the development and the developers’ intentions.
“I did not think they were being shady,” she said, speaking for herself and not on behalf of Shelter JH. “I said, ‘I’m going to keep an open mind.’ ”
At the dinner, Kaufman said, she didn’t learn as much detail as she would have liked about the development. So she started doing her own research and discovered that a public meeting had been discussed but never realized.
“What got me so fired up was the promise of a neighborhood meeting,” Kaufman said. “Our vote was attempted to be bought by a wine-and-dine event. I felt exploited.”
Sophia Zerebinski, a Driggs resident, also received an invitation to the all-expenses-paid dinner and partook in free massages that weekend, courtesy of Shear.
Both women were invited by a mutual friend who said they would be learning more about the development.
Zerebinski said she was expecting a presentation by the development team, but as the dinner progressed most of her questions — about details such as water rights — went unanswered.
“I thought, ‘What is his angle here?’ ” Zerebinski said. “Then we got the email the next day.”
In the email Shear wrote: “If you all wouldn’t mind saying some words in an email to the town before April 4th, and/or speaking at the hearing on the 11th we would be so appreciative as I understand how important local support is.”
Last summer, The Vault Home Collection, with large-scale luxury developments in play across the West including an active development in Telluride, Colorado, filed its plans with the Teton County, Idaho, planning department just days before a new land use code went into effect. The new code offers tighter development regulations in the rural parts of the county, but High Noon Ranch seeks to be grandfathered in under the old code that affords the company greater density consideration.
Today’s planning meeting starts at 5 p.m. with six planning applications ahead of High Noon Ranch’s at 6:30 p.m.
According to the planning department, five of those applications were submitted before the new land use code came into effect. In total, there are currently 126 development applications working through the planning department that are grandfathered into the old code.
When High Noon Ranch’s project application was initially filed, VARD, a planning advocacy organization with a more than 25-year history in Teton Valley, sounded an alarm.
Niki Richards, the executive director for the nonprofit, said the developers met several times with the organization to address a variety of concerns including building density and commercial operations at the foothills of the Big Holes. The organization pushed for a neighborhood meeting so that both community members and developers could better understand the project and concerns. She said developers were open to the idea.
The neighborhood meeting never happened, Richards said, despite the organization asking multiple times if they could assist with the community event. And while the developer has decreased some of the density around the Big Holes, Richards was critical of hosting a private dinner on the other side of the Tetons rather than a community meeting.
However, Shear said VARD never organized the community meeting, and with the project scheduled for its first public hearing today there was no time for one.
“No good deed goes unpunished,” Shear said of hosting the private events at Teton Village.
Shear added that if the community did not want the development, the development group would take the project to Colorado or Montana.
Unlike Teton County, Wyoming, where 3% of land is private and developable, Teton County, Idaho, contains between 75% and 85% private, developable land.
“Maybe this is my wake-up call to start paying closer attention to development,” said Zerebinski, who recently built a home in Teton Valley.
“We know this place is going to grow and develop, but I feel gross from the dinner. They need to do a community forum. They are not true to their word. Now how do we know that they are going to be true to their word when it comes to this project?”
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