City reaches settlement with VARD
Because of a complaint filed by watchdog nonprofit Valley Advocates for Responsible Development, the Driggs Planning & Zoning Commission and Driggs City Council will again consider the annexation and rezone of an 11-acre property south of Broulim’s on the west side of the highway.
The complaint filed on May 6 contends that the mayor and council failed to comply with due process and open meeting requirements when the annexation was approved in April.
The owner of the property across the highway from Creekside Meadows had applied for the land to be annexed into city limits and rezoned for commercial mixed use. VARD and some community members were opposed to the rezone, and did not feel that they had adequate opportunity to communicate their opposition, because the hearing was continued several times due to COVID and held online instead of at city hall. The city council eventually approved the annexation and rezone, but not without dissent in the ranks; the vote to approve was two to two and the mayor broke the tie.
In mid-July, VARD attorney Anna Trentadue sat down with city attorney Stephen Zollinger to find a solution. The city agreed to declare the previous annexation null and void and to redo the public hearings at both the P&Z and council level.
At the council’s Tuesday meeting, Zollinger performed a recusal analysis of council and determined that none of the decision makers had intentional biases that meant they are unable to reach a conclusion based solely on the facts presented. He did tell the mayor and council members Ralph Mossman and August Christensen that they could choose to recuse themselves because of their involvement with the litigation and other extraneous communications.
Another outcome of the settlement is that the city will make accommodations for people who want to participate in the meeting but don’t know how to use the online meeting platform and can’t or don’t wish to attend the meeting in person.
Also, Trentadue noted, members of council did not receive several emails of public comment sent to the email@example.com address because the comments were screened. Usually public comment on land use applications is submitted through the planning department to be included in the official staff report, but in March VARD encouraged its members to email the council directly requesting that no major public hearings be held during a pandemic.
Mayor Hyrum Johnson said some of those emails had been lost in the flurry of messages sent to the council address.
“Once we discovered the lost emails, it was clear that the likely outcome of a legal proceeding would be that we’d be required to execute a do-over of the council hearings,” Johnson wrote in an email to the Teton Valley News. “Recognizing this, and in the interest of maximizing the public trust, we offered to settle and to start the entire process over at P&Z.”
Emails to the council address will now be automatically forwarded to all council members.
“This is good news for the city, from a 30,000 foot view, that public comment will no longer be withheld from the city council,” Trentadue said.
The P&Z public hearing is scheduled for Aug. 12 at 6:30 p.m. on Zoom and in person at city hall. Information on the application is available on the city’s website and comment can be sent to PublicHearingComments@driggsidaho.org.