To understand what the Teton County Scenic Preserve Trust (TCSPT) is and how it works, a general knowledge of conservation easements is necessary. A conservation easement is a voluntary, legal agreement that permanently limits the use of land in order to protect conservation values. Conservation easements are a big part of protecting opens spaces and wildlife values on private land in Teton County.
The TCSPT is a repository for conservation easements. The TCSPT accepts and stewards conservation easements on behalf of the citizens of Teton County. The easements are acquired voluntarily through a trade for additional development rights. In other words, the property owner receives additional subdivision rights or additional allowable floor area in exchange for easement dedication. The TCSPT holds over 50 easements, totaling over 3,000 acres.
The TCSPT was established by the Teton County Board of County Commissioners in 1978. In 2015, the TCSPT adopted the Open Space Resources Resolution of Teton County, WY. This is the Trust’s governing document today.
Our Board of County Commissioners (BCC) also serves as the TCSPT Board. While the BCC has the benefit of staff recommendations regarding their decisions related to things like planning, engineering, and budget, the TCSPT Board acts without staff support in assuring compliance with the Open Space Resources Resolution.
In place of a designated staff member, a consultant is hired to conduct easement monitoring and reporting every 2 years. Unfortunately, this does not meet the requirements of the Open Space Resources Resolution (2015), which requires annual monitoring of easements. The hired consultant is only partially fulfilling one of the TCSPT obligations.
If the TCSPT does not have dedicated staff or Board, how can we know if the Trust is abiding by the Open Space Resources Resolution? We know the required annual monitoring of easements is not happening; what else might be overlooked?
The Alliance believes that if the County is to continue being in the land trust business, then it should, at minimum, be properly staffed, governed and accredited. Most land trusts in the United States are accredited. Accreditation demonstrates to the public that a land trust is operating at the highest ethical standards, financial standards, and stewardship responsibility into the future. Accreditation provides governance, record keeping policies, violation procedures, guidance in working through difficult stewardship issues, and consistency during staff transitions. All of these things would improve the community’s confidence in the Trust.
Most, if not all the TCSPT easements have been acquired through development bonuses. In other words, a landowner dedicates land for conservation in exchange for an increase in floor area on their property or additional subdivision rights. The idea being that the resulting conservation easement is a benefit to the public and provides protection to wildlife, scenic vistas and/or agricultural lands.
The table below illustrates just a few comparative examples of development options on some Rural properties with and without floor area and subdivision bonuses and conservation easement dedication.
|DEVELOPMENT OPTION EXAMPLES IN THE RURAL ZONE OF TETON COUNTY|
|Development Permitted by Right||With Floor Area Bonus||Subdivision|
|Conservation Easement (acres)||0||31.5||na|
Teton County Land Development Regulations allow Rural properties three residential development options.
- By right, without any additional approvals, Rural properties can be subdivided into 35-acres parcels and can build just over 10,000 square feet of floor area (the larger the parcel the more allowable floor area).
- With additional approval from the Planning Director, some Rural properties can request additional floor area (about twice as much) in exchange for dedicating a conservation easement.
- Lastly, with approval from the BCC, some larger Rural properties can create denser subdivisions on smaller lots in exchange for conservation easement dedication.
Land protection in perpetuity is valuable, but does the exchange of increased development diminish the value of protected land? Increased development results in not only increased impact to our ecosystem, wildlife, and scenic resources but it also increases our carbon footprint on and off the development site.
Another complicating wrinkle in evaluating the efficacy of the TCSPT is that some of the land under easement today would be undevelopable under current LDR’s even without an easement. The full value of the easement would only be realized if the LDR’s changed to allow for more rural development.
IS THE TRADEOFF OF INCREASED DEVELOPMENT FOR CONSERVATION EASEMENTS WORTH IT?
CAN WE COUNT ON THE TCSPT EASEMENTS TO BE PROTECTED IN PERPETUITY WITHOUT ACCREDITATION, DESIGNATED STAFF OR AN INDEPENDENT BOARD?
STAY TUNED TO THE CONSERVATION CHRONICLE FOR MORE ON THE TETON COUNTY SCENIC PRESERVE TRUST.