On Sept. 21 at a well-attended meeting, the Driggs City Council considered two rezone applications and approved lease extensions for the tenants of the city’s industrial building.
One agenda item, a seemingly minor rezone on a property south of downtown next to Creekside Meadows, brought intense scrutiny and opposition from neighboring property owners. The longtime owners of the six-acre Bidache property are seeking to rezone the parcel, which currently has three commercial and residential zones, into a single commercial corridor zone designed for auto-intensive uses at the city’s gateway. The developers of Creekside Meadows are in support of the move, which would eventually entail the extension and connection of South Bates Road to Creekside’s planned Serviceberry Street.
The eastern portion of the lot is a wooded wetland area, which opponents argue the city should protect by leaving the residential zone in place on one-third of the lot. The planning administrator, Leanne Bernstein, strongly advised the council against that move, saying multiple zones on a single parcel causes big administrative headaches.
Bernstein also informed the council that, regardless of the parcel’s zone, there are elements of the municipal code that protect natural resources: in this case, wetland delineation requirements and buffers, and a provision against unnecessary tree and vegetation removal.
According to the applicant, the owners have no immediate intention of developing the land, although they did express a desire to get the required wetland delineation done with as soon as possible this fall. Bernstein encouraged the council to include a condition of approval that the study is instead done in the spring when the wetland is at its most robust.
Hesitant to approve the rezone with such loud opposition but unable to find a compromise that the city attorney or applicant would sign off on, the city council instead opted the table the rezone and ask for more information from the owners and staff on environmental and property value impacts. This will require re-noticing and more meetings held by the planning and zoning commission and the council.
Editor's note: After this story went to press, the city's project page was updated to say that the application will not go back to P&Z.
Runway Protection Zone
The council then reviewed another hotly-contested zone map amendment regarding properties near the airport.
After the expansion of the Driggs-Reed Memorial Airport almost a decade ago, an engineering firm apparently plotted an incorrect Runway Protection Zone Overlay, the area of land past the terminus of the runway. The zone has major development restrictions intended to maintain the safety of residents and structures on the ground.
During some research earlier this spring, the Driggs planning department and airport board discovered the error and, after seeking guidance from the Federal Aviation Administration, brought a zone map amendment to the planning and zoning commission and council.
The city’s attorneys, both past and present, have emphasized at several meetings that regardless of the rezone, the FAA, which has oversight of any development within a certain distance from the airport, will restrict or deny building permits in the RPZ. According to city staff, correcting the zoning map is a necessary step to allay confusion and provide more information to current and prospective property owners.
Many of the property owners whose land now falls within the RPZ have been stridently opposed to the rezone, saying that there should be other solutions to the problem and that because of the error, the city owes them for lost development potential.
In July the Teton County Board of Equalizers approved property tax adjustments on the affected parcels, meaning all the assessed values went down, with decreases anywhere from $12,000 to $79,000.
The city council members expressed extreme discomfort with making a zone map amendment that negatively impacted property owners, but voted unanimously in favor of the rezone.
“There needs to be recognition of the situation at hand and discussion of future plans to rectify it as we can,” council member Miles Knowles told the affected parties.
“I want to make a commitment that this issue doesn’t end this evening,” council member Jen Calder added. “We have work to do.”
Council president August Christensen requested that the city hold a work session in the near future to receive a comprehensive update from the airport board and consultant.
Industrial Building Leases
Finally, the council approved two-year lease extensions for the four tenants who occupy the Driggs Industrial Park, a city-owned small business incubator north of town. The tenants were taken by surprise in July when the Teton Valley News reported that the city was considering selling the building. The city then ran into a hitch after learning that the property may have been partially funded by the FAA, making the sale more complicated or possibly even non-viable, according to the mayor.
The tenants requested that, instead of a one-year lease extension that the city council had been considering for them, they receive a two-year extension.
“The reality is that having to find a new location and move at the end of their busy season presents a real burden,” said facilities administrator Lori Kyle. “Getting an extension beyond a year was very important to them, so much so that they were willing to take a rent hike.”
Three of the four tenants have been in the building long enough that their rent is at “market rate,” although Kyle noted that that rate is less than actual market rate for industrial space in the current market. That’s why, with the tenants’ consent, she proposed a 10 percent increase in rent.
Christensen voted against the rent hike, and the lease extension passed with a three to one vote.