The Teton County Planning & Zoning Commission has held one public hearing and three work sessions to tackle revisions to the draft land development code and plans to hold at least one more work session, but the process will continue without the guidance of planners Gary Armstrong and Joshua Chase, both of whom have left the county planning department.

With the help of the consulting firm Logan Simpson, the P&Z commissioners have combed through the thousands of comments on the draft code received during the last public outreach push this spring. The commission has met on a weekly basis since June 15, splitting time between three-hour-long code work sessions and regular meetings to address the raft of land use applications that have been coming to the county planning department.

Recent work sessions have focused on the zoning and density section of the draft, which encompasses a broader view of development in the valley, rather than specific regulations on aspects of life like short term rentals, beekeeping, and fences (although specific topics are also being addressed in the revision). The next work session is on Aug. 3.

“All of us on the Planning & Zoning Commission understand the importance of the Land Development Code and are taking the time to make sure we consider each section before we submit our recommendations to the Board of County Commissioners,” wrote P&Z chair Jack Haddox in a letter to the community last week.

Project managers from Logan Simpson will facilitate future work sessions as well as keeping a record of changes, now that planning administrator Armstrong has left the county. His last day was July 16; both he and Chase, who left earlier this summer, took jobs closer to their homes outside of Teton Valley.

At his final meeting on July 13, Armstrong told the P&Z commissioners, “I really admire each of your willingness to serve during such a tumultuous time, with applications alone being as busy as they are, on top of the land development code.”

This marks the end of a four-year period of stability in the planning department, after a decade of turnover that saw the arrival and departure of over ten planners.

Planning services assistant Sharon Fox is the one remaining staff member of the department.

The board of county commissioners is interviewing applicants for Chase’s senior planner position, and might seek the help of a contract planner until the department is back up and running.

“We’re not panicked about the planning department,” BOCC chair Cindy Riegel told the Teton Valley News last week. “We’re in pretty good shape if we can get permanent planners in by September. People do need to understand that there will be a lag time in processing applications, but the department isn’t coming to a screeching halt, and we will be as responsive as possible.”

The next question is where the code revision process goes once P&Z feels its work is finished. The BOCC debated that with Commissioner Haddox and Logan Simpson during a special meeting on July 16. All the parties acknowledged that at least one more public hearing is necessary before the new code is adopted, but they were uncertain which body should hold the hearings; past communication from the county has said there will be a second public hearing before P&Z, but the meeting participants questioned whether that would further stall the process in P&Z’s court, even though P&Z had already received ample input from the public.

“Transparency is something that’s really important, yet we don’t know how it’s going to work ourselves,” Riegel said.

Logan Simpson consultants told the BOCC they were checking with the state for a legislative recommendation on how to move forward. According to an amended press release later sent out by the county, the public hearing will be before the county commissioners. After completing its revisions, the P&Z can vote to recommend its version of the code to the BOCC, and the new draft, with changes tracked, should be released well in advance of the public hearing so that the community has time to read and comment on the new version. This is an ongoing story and will be covered in future issues of the TVN.