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Gateway PUD ordinance

Decision Makers: Board of County Commissioners – Teton County, Idaho

Topic: Gateway PUD ordinance

Teton County Board of County Commissioners
89 N. Main Street
Driggs, ID, 83422

July 3, 2007

Dear County Commissioners,

Valley Advocates for Responsible Development (VARD) is writing in response to the public hearing on the proposed adoption of the Gateway Reserve Area PUD ordinance.

We commend the Planning & Zoning (P&Z) for all its hard work in amending the Planned Unit Development (PUD) ordinance in the “gateway” area.  Most agree the current PUD ordinance is problematic for the county. However, VARD is opposed to the proposed Gateway Reserve Area PUD ordinance for two main reasons: 1) Amending sections of the PUD ordinance at this time would be premature and create a potentially unstable planning environment while future changes to the PUD ordinance are expected in the near future, and 2) the proposed densities and bonus formulas are inappropriate for the “Gateway” area with underlying rural reserve zoning of Ag. 20.

Most who understand land use planning in Teton County recognize that there are a myriad of issues with the current PUD and that it is the root of many of our current county growth issues. The current PUD is disenfranchising the community by allowing inappropriate densities in many areas of the county, which is having detrimental effects on the community's costs of services. It also does not give enough guidance on the size, configuration and definition of open space, which is having negative effects on the county's unique rural character.

It is important to look at the big picture and address long term planning efforts when considering this proposed ordinance. Much has changed since the P&Z Commission worked on the proposed Gateway PUD ordinance. The most significant change is that the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) hired  
Clarion Associates, a respected land use consulting firm, to look at the county's comprehensive plan and corresponding ordinances. Certainly, it can be expected that Clarion will take a close look at the county's PUD ordinance and make recommendations.  Any changes to the PUD at this time, without those recommendations, may be premature and create an unstable planning environment for developers in the “Gateway” area. Stability in planning is an important issue for Teton County. A change in specific sections of the PUD ordinance, for a potentially short period of time, is not a stabilizing action to take.

One downside of the Gateway ordinance is that it only deals with a small area of the county, albeit an important area, without a comprehensive examination of future growth patterns through the rest of the county. Certainly the proposed ordinance is an improvement over the current PUD ordinance but, with the potential for other changes on the horizon for the overall PUD ordinance, changes now would be a premature and create a piecemeal approach to land use, which is poor planning.

VARD believes the proposed ordinance has some very good components such as: requiring a natural resource analysis be conducted by a professional wildlife biologist/hydrologist; the definition of open space is more clear than the current ordinance; and more specifics on requirements for an open space management plan is important. That said, VARD believes that the overall density, when taking into account the possible allowed bonuses, is too high. The underlying density in this area is 1:20 acres.  The most allowed density with bonuses under this proposal would equate to 30 units per100 acres, an increase of 500% from the underlying zoning. In our opinion, such a large bonus increase is too great and would have detrimental effects on the landscape and community services. If allowable density were halved to 15 units/100 acres, after bonuses it would equate to a 200% increase above the underlying zoning, but may better preserve the area's rural character.

The community water system bonus also needs to be revisited and thoroughly examined. As proposed, a bonus of 5 units per 100 acres could be granted if 50% of the units were served by a community water system. While understanding the reasoning behind this idea (allowing larger lots to have their own well), the percentage of lots that would be served by a community system should be in the range of 80 to 90% to provide an effective incentive for clustering. For example, on a 3,000-acre property without any bonuses, 300 units could be built. To receive the allowable bonus densities the developer would have to serve 150 units with a community system and also allow 150 units to have their own wells. Because this area is primarily large acreages, a large number of units off a central sewer (in this case 150 units) is a scenario for rural sprawl, which is counterintuitive to the purpose of the PUD to encourage clustering. The bottom line is that whatever the allowed number may be, it should not adversely impact the rural character of the Northwest landscape of the valley.

With so much going on in the community, particularly in regard to land use planning, it is hard to resist the urge to move forward at any opportunity, but now is not the time with this proposal. Take a breath and a step back and use the next months – with Clarion's help – to identify a plan that will address all the land use issues that are facing Teton County. That is good planning and responsible growth.

Thank you for all your hard work.


Sandy Mason
Program Director


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