Statement from Kathy Rinaldi, VARD's Executive Director, issued March 25th, on the proposed emergency moratorium resolution
Decision Makers: Board of County Commissioners – Teton County, Idaho
Topic: Statement from Kathy Rinaldi, VARD's Executive Director, issued March 25th, on the proposed emergency moratorium resolution
I find it very unfortunate that we are in the position in which an emergency moratorium is an option on the table. However, given the state of our situation in Teton County, I support the moratorium because I believe we have run out of other options. The choices before us are 1) Do nothing and hope the current crises facing the community rectify themselves 2) Take action and give the county the opportunity to plan and uphold the health, safety and welfare of its citizens. A moratorium temporarily halts all new development regardless of its quality, and that is unfortunate. I know people caught up in this, who may have gotten in over their heads and can’t wait for 6 months, and I truly feel for them.
I think it is important that we understand how we got to this point, that this is a situation that has been building and that we have reached a tipping point. For anyone to accuse this Board of County Commissioners, particularly the new commissioners, for our current crisis is misguided and false. The reality is that this untenable situation has been building over the past 4 years. It began with the rush of 2.5 zoning starting in 2003 and then the county opening the floodgates for development in 2004 with the passage of the Comprehensive Plan and Subdivision Ordinance that greatly increased county densities without much foresight into cost of community services that we’ve eventually arrived at today.
At the time that these policies were adopted there was considerable public comment cautioning the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) and Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission on the dramatic increase in allowable densities, how these densities would affect other jurisdictions in the county – namely the cities – and the lack of definition of meaningful open space. Since their approval, the County has experienced a dramatic increase in subdivision filings, and although the county got away from the conventional 2.5 acre subdivision design, the majority of the PUDs that have been approved have not proven to be much better. The lack of definition of open space allows meaningless strips of land between lots to be considered “open” – hardly useful for agriculture or any habitat protection, nevertheless aesthetic value. And, the densities allowed have proven to be unsustainable for the local community to service as evidenced by the Fire District’s need for $6.5million to adequately service the number of platted lots.
Some argue that stability in planning means leaving bad policies and codes in place to let them work their way out in the free market. But how, when the local government is charged with upholding the health, safety and welfare of its residents, can the county keep codes and policies in place that have not only created an economically unstable situation but also threaten the residents health, safety and welfare? The landfill is out of compliance and to capacity and will be closed in July of this year. The new transfer station will not be ready by the time the landfill is shut down, the Driggs sewer system that serves Victor and the County is at capacity, etc. etc.
Some of the ordinances in place now leave the county little discretion in evaluating sustainable versus detrimental development and that has left the community more vulnerable to the latter. There are many developers in Teton Valley who care about doing good developments that take into account the unique assets of the community and care that the future residents of their developments, as well as all the residents, have adequate services. We’ve seen that with the generosity of some developers to help the county with affordable housing and other county infrastructure needs. Unfortunately there are also many not so scrupulous developers who see the get-rich-quick profit scheme available here who are able to quickly plat and then flip their parcels for a substantial windfall.
What has this system created? A county government overwhelmed and overworked with development applications and pressure, little time to plan and decision makers doubting if they have the ability to protect the health, safety and welfare of its citizens. Some will argue that the county is taking away a person’s property rights to develop by putting in place a moratorium. But when you take the time to understand the issues at stake you see that ultimately one of the things this moratorium is about is property rights. To rely on the assumption that subdivisions are being platted only for speculation or that they may never be built out is a false hope and a recipe for disaster. When the county approves a subdivision it essentially gives the guarantee to those future lot owners that they can uphold their health, safety and welfare – whether it be water quality, emergency services, or protecting their property values. Right now we can’t do that – and that is and will affect all of our property rights.
I don’t want to be responsible for paying for the consequences of mismanaged growth and right now we are relying on current residents to do so – the working class who can’t afford tax hikes and are barely hanging on as it is. I would rather the county spend my hard earned tax money on planning that protects all its residents rather than protecting a few and then eventually fighting litigation from individual property owners because their water quality was compromised or emergency services couldn’t get to them on time.
The new commissioners were asked during their first meeting in January of this year if they were considering adopting a moratorium in response to development pressure. Both Commissioners Young and Stevenson stated they were not. Instead they wanted to work with their Planning and Zoning Commission and Planning Staff to remedy the situation. The P&Z has added numerous meetings to their full schedule to try and address some of the most pressing issues, but before they can address one (e.g. allowable densities in the rural reserve areas of the county or creating a Preferred Land Use Map as required by Idaho Statute) another is added (e.g. Victor Impact Area Expansion). To date, they have not sent any revisions or planning recommendations on to the Board of County Commissioners. To compound the situation, the 120 day county requirement to process applications has created overloaded P&Z agendas. The May 2007 agenda alone has 14 subdivision applications creating over 500 new lots; it’s questionable if anyone – the P&Z or staff – has the ability to provide meaningful comment and feedback on that volume of applications. Then, as Murphy would have it, the Planning Department lost its Deputy Planning Administrator, who was responsible for processing the bulk of development applications, including the 69 pending applications.
The decision on this emergency moratorium will be controversial. It helps to know that we are not alone in our predicament and that at least 3 other counties in Idaho have effectively used moratoriums in the last couple of years to get a handle on their growth pressures. The P&Z commission of Fremont County to our north just last week recommended a moratorium to their Board of County Commissioners by a vote of 8-2 – part of their decision to move forward was based on what they have seen happen in Teton County. The cities of Swan Valley and Island Park recently adopted moratoriums to enable them to better plan for growth and conservative Franklin County in the south did the same.
Unfortunately, I do hope that the Board of County Commissioners adopts a moratorium and that as a community we make good use of this 6 month breather to create a better future for ourselves and our children. I encourage the county and this community to get beyond the divide in the valley and start working towards our common goals. Many of you have heard me say this before, but I do believe we all care about similar things – clean air, clean water, opportunities for employment and housing, and a person’s ability to retire with dignity. We may differ over how to reach our goals but the fact that we have the same goals means a lot. If we can focus on this I’m confident we will find win-win solutions across the board.