On Tuesday, December 22, 2015, your Board of County Commissioners unanimously adopted updates to the rural area land development regulations (LDRs), along with a revised Teton County Scenic Preserve Trust Resolution.
These updates are the first LDR and zoning updates adopted to implement the Jackson / Teton County Comprehensive Plan adopted in 2012. Their adoption is the culmination of a three-year process that began in early 2013 and included numerous public workshops, open houses, and hearings.
So what does the adoption of updated rural LDRs mean for our community?
Let’s start with the good.
Most significantly, the updated rural LDRs direct approximately 2,500 residential units out of the rural areas of our valley. This shift will help our community accomplish our goal of directing 60% of future growth into complete neighborhoods, the largest of which is the Town of Jackson.
In addition, both our County Commissioners and planning staff deserve praise for the thoughtful and methodical process they employed to update the rural LDRs.
Then there’s the bad.
Unfortunately, the updated rural LDRs missed a golden opportunity to encourage, rather than discourage, the personal decisions of our valley’s landowning families to enter into conservation easements on their lands.
Here’s the deal. Over the past six months, the Alliance worked collaboratively with an “informal working group” of conservation non-profits, planning consultants, property owners with extensive experience implementing conservation easements, and land development regulation experts to develop and agree on recommendations that would encourage conservation easements through improvements to the draft rural land LDRs. These recommendations had a singular focus: to encourage our valley’s landowning families to permanently protect open space.
Regrettably, your County Commissioners did not adopt many of the recommendations from this “informal working group.” The Alliance will continue working with this group to ensure improvements get made to the rural LDRs when they come up for review in a year.
Finally, there’s the ugly.
The rural LDRs include two small changes that could make a big difference.
One change eliminated an important step in the public review process in zoning decisions when unzoned public lands are transferred to private ownership. Specifically, the change dropped the required zone designation of Rural 1 = one home per 35 acres, which allows the least amount of development, until an “appropriate zone” can be determined. This creates an uncertain situation where it’s left open to interpretation as to what “appropriate zone” means.
The second change has to do with when Planned Resort Master Plans (PRMP) expire, are revoked or abandoned. Previously the code required they be rezoned to the prior zone on the land, before the PRMP was approved. This meant they went back to the old zoning until a rigorous planning and impact analysis process could be undertaken to determine the impacts and benefits of any proposed new zoning. Now, under the new change, such large areas will be zoned under vague wording left open to interpretation, what is the “appropriate zone based on the direction of the Comprehensive Plan?” The Alliance is concerned this vague language could result in free upzones being given without corresponding public benefits or private compensation for the public impacts these upzones would produce.
Your County Commissioners adopted these two changes despite there being no community benefit, policy justification, or Comprehensive Plan direction for either of these modifications. In fact, since there was hardly any public conversation about either of these changes, we still don’t fully understand why your County Commissioners made them. All we know is that we should be striving for more public involvement on both of these issues, and these changes take us in the wrong direction. The Alliance plans on working with County planning staff to make positive modifications to these processes moving forward to ensure robust public involvement on both of these issues.