City sees no guarantee of affordable units
With a series of three land use application approvals on Oct. 5, the Driggs City Council lined up favorable conditions for developers to build more housing in all corners of town, although the city has yet to enact any affordable housing requirements on the proposed projects.
First, the council approved a preliminary plat for a subdivision on the Mathews property south of downtown across the highway from Creekside Meadows. The 11-acre parcel has been the subject of quite a few council meetings as the former owner and then the current owner sought annexation and rezones. Now owner and developer Gavin Mathews is subdividing the lot in order to build 44 townhomes on the southern portion along South Bates Road.
One condition in the annexation agreement finalized in May of this year was that the developer and the city “discuss options” for providing affordable housing. To fulfill that requirement, the Teton County Joint Housing Authority has attempted for several months to have the discussion with Mathews, but each effort was stymied by either lack of a quorum or a no-show by the developer.
Driggs community development director Doug Self, who also serves as the housing authority secretary, did provide some suggestions in lieu of a formal discussion, such as restricting short term rentals or putting in occupancy requirements, but the developer was not amenable to those ideas, according to the staff report for the application.
The city council members did voice their concerns that the conversation on housing hadn’t happened, but Driggs city attorney explained to the council that the weak language in the annexation agreement did not enable the city to require anything the developer is unwilling to do. The council approved the subdivision with several conditions, including a requirement for a continued conversation between the housing authority and developer.
On Oct. 6, the day after the city council’s decision, the housing authority met with the same agenda item: to discuss affordable housing with Mathews or his representatives. The developer did not attend the meeting. The commissioners expressed their frustration that the city council did not put any teeth into the conditions of approval for the subdivision.
“Frankly, since the council has already taken action, I’m not sure what purpose this discussion serves other than voluntary compliance on the developer’s part,” housing commissioner Troy Butzlaff said. “We have no leverage.”
The commissioners voted to remove the item from any future agendas.
On Oct. 5 the city council also approved two rezones to RM-2, multi-family residential. One application was for the 7.7-acre property across 5th Street from Teton High School.
The applicant’s narrative reads, “The RM-2 zone will help facilitate the development of diverse and attainable housing options that will enhance the local economy. These uses provide very compatible and attainable living options for the Driggs full time population and population moving to the community, which is primarily young families and retirees.”
However, project engineer Barry Bame noted during the meeting, the owner hasn’t entered the concept phase for development, meaning there isn’t a set plan for kinds of housing, open space, or affordability options.
“We haven’t dug too much into the layout,” he said.
Council member Jen Calder requested that the city revisit its transportation plan at a future meeting, because of the number of large residential projects funneling through the planning process.
“I have such a concern about traffic. We’re getting so maxed out. I wonder how we’re going to mitigate traffic because it’s already bursting at the seams around the schools,” she said.
The council unanimously approved the rezone.
The other application was a 0.68-acre parcel north of town, on the corner of Moraine Court and Valley Centre Drive. The parcel was zoned commercial corridor but was adjacent to residential uses. Owner and Utah contractor Darrick Despain told the council that he’s been coming up to Teton Valley on construction jobs for many years and has always struggled to find housing, which is why he sought a rezone on the property in order to build multi-family residential units.
The council agreed that the Moraine Court lot’s proximity to other high-density housing projects made the rezone logical, although council president August Christensen did wonder if the city was losing valuable industrial opportunity zones. The council approved the rezone unanimously.