The Ranch

The Ranch is a proposed 121-lot subdivision east of Saddleback Vistas. If approved, it will be the largest subdivision platted in Teton County since before the Great Recession.

Public hearing on draft code will happen Oct. 25

Since late August, the Teton County Planning & Zoning Commission has been tasked with reviewing the initial plans for four subdivisions in the 10- to 30-lot range, and a 121-lot subdivision is coming down the pipe this week. The influx of new subdivision proposals that started in mid-2020 appears to have picked up steam.

Based on numbers gathered from Teton County Planning & Zoning agendas, between January and September the county received (or began processing) applications for new subdivisions that, if approved, would total almost 200 new lots. This does not include amendment requests for existing subdivisions. Ten of those applications were for two-lot subdivisions, which still require at least two public hearings each.

That total also doesn’t include the proposed 121-lot subdivision The Ranch, on 375 acres east of Saddleback Vistas on E 4000 S in Victor. Teton County P&Z held a public hearing for the subdivision concept plan on Oct. 12. Application materials are posted at tetoncountyidaho.gov.

To put 2021 numbers into perspective, in 2019 Teton County P&Z received and reviewed subdivision proposals that totaled 28 new lots. Eight of those applications were for two-lot subdivisions. The applications ticked up in 2020, with just over 100 new lots proposed. In 2020 the trend of larger applications began with Lucy Meadows, a 30-lot subdivision in Victor (which received preliminary plat approval this March), and Buckrail Ranch, a 24-lot subdivision in Tetonia (which received final plat approval this September).

Processing applications in the county planning department got a lot more challenging when both planners left their posts earlier this year. For now, former senior planner Joshua Chase is working 10 hours per week for the county, as are Driggs planning administrator Leanne Bernstein and former Driggs planning administrator Ashley Koehler. County commissioner Bob Heneage said that the county is still searching for candidates to fill the positions.

“Between the three contract planners, we’re getting 30 hours a week, which is woefully inadequate in trying to make up for the lost 80 hours from the two staff planners,” Heneage said. “In the current environment, trying to find help for anything is really tough.”

The real estate market has been rapacious this year, which could be causing the increase in subdivision applications. Real estate agent Tayson Rockefeller wrote in his market report at the end of September, “The second quarter of 2021 seems to be a high point in the market with 190 land sales, consistent with the huge increase in sales since the real estate craze began in 2020.”

“The residential market continues to exceed expectations, likely due to the low inventory of just 58 active listings at the time of this writing and a dismal 14 new construction offerings,” Rockefeller continued.

The number of proposed new lots on the county docket are nearing pre-Great Recession levels. There were four years between 2000 and the economic crash during which over 500 lots were recorded in Teton County; in 2006 that number hit almost 2,000 lots, according to a fiscal impact survey performed in March of 2010.

The relentless churn of subdividing created the oft-cited “7,000 vacant lots” that Teton County gained infamy for in the past decade, but many of those vacant lots are finally being built out.

Building department manager Wendy Danielson told the Teton Board of County Commissioners on Sept. 24 that, for the first time since 2007, the county has surpassed 300 building permits in the calendar year. Some of the old subdivisions are seeing development action for the first time, such as north end neighborhoods like Sky View and Luck E Leven, and Victor subdivisions like Hidden Waters and Aspen Grove.

“That’s absolutely a good thing,” Heneage said about renewed development in old subdivisions.

Some in the community, including Valley Advocates for Responsible Development, have opined that the rush of new subdivision applications has been caused by the pending adoption of an updated land development code. The proposed draft code, which has been under review by P&Z since May, does away with the county’s existing residential zones of 2.5-acre and 20-acre minimum density allowances, and instead uses an average density equation that would not enable the same kinds of subdivisions being proposed now.

“So long as Teton County has outdated zoning, speculators will continue to purchase property and try and take advantage of hot markets,” said VARD attorney Anna Trentadue, who watched the last boom and bust happen in the valley. “The public is definitely disadvantaged by how fast development applications are changing.”

Several property owners adjacent to the large proposed Ranch subdivision on 4000 S echoed the same concerns, writing in their letters to P&Z that they had received notice of the application only one day before the comment deadline, and that the developer is seeking to get the subdivision on paper before the new code passes. “This seems to be an attempt to get around the County’s upcoming approved Comprehensive Plan [sic] in which this area would be required to a minimum lot size of 5 acres,” wrote a group of Saddleback Vistas residents.

The land development code governs all future land use proposals in the county (not within the cities) according to the county’s comprehensive plan. The county has been working on and off on a new code since 2012, but elections, staff turnover, and Covid have all slowed down the process.

Now, a redlined version of the new draft code is available for review on the county’s website at tetoncountyidaho.gov, and P&Z will hold a second public hearing on the draft on Monday, October 25 at 6 p.m. in the auditorium of the school district administration building at 481 N. Main Street in Driggs.

“It’s progressing at long last,” Commissioner Heneage said. “For me, I’ve been working on the code on and off for two and a half years. Or you could make a case that it’s been 20 years; I was on the 2002 comprehensive plan committee—that’s not even the most current one.”

Comments on the draft code can be submitted in person or via email to pz@co.teton.id.us.