A large luxury development with a fraught history is back in front of the county; the new owners of the north end subdivision River Rim Ranch are gathering input on possible future master plan amendments intended to jump start the stalled resort.
River Rim, a 5,500-acre golf course community west of Tetonia with expansive Teton views and private river access, was originally platted in the early 2000s and included over 600 luxury homes as well as a lodge, spa, and other amenities. The original developer, West Rim LLC, lost the subdivision to foreclosure in 2009 and Glacier BanCorp has held the stalled Division II part of the development since then. Lots stood empty, the partially-constructed golf course was invaded by noxious weeds, and the owner returned to Teton County several times through the 2010s asking for extensions and master plan amendments. In late 2018, part of the subdivision sold to Grand Teton Land Company, a subsidiary of a family realty estate lending and investment firm.
This time around, the developers decided to approach the county and hold informal work sessions to determine the best course of action before submitting an official master plan and plat amendment application. They first met with the Teton County Planning & Zoning Commission on June 23.
While the owners of River Rim, to be renamed Teton River Ranch, are new, the project team includes people intimately familiar with the development, such as former River Rim marketing director and current project manager Doug Gemmel of Alta Realty and engineer Bob Ablondi of Rendezvous Engineering.
“I’ve been involved with River Rim since 2004, through the good times and the tough times,” Gemmel told P&Z, referring to the blows the development sustained through the recession after significant investment in infrastructure.
The goal is to bring back the golf course and amenities like a club house, convenience store, locker rooms, cart storage, and dining, explained project architect Scott Bechtle.
“We’re trying to figure out, how do we make this stalled subdivision something that’s economically productive for the community,” Bechtle said.
Most recently in 2016, the previous owner attempted to achieve a similar goal but the Teton Valley News reported that the application was quickly withdrawn after P&Z requested more information.
P&Z chairman Chris Larson noted during Tuesday’s meeting that he is the last remaining commissioner to have institutional knowledge of River Rim’s history. He emphasized that a previous master plan amendment in 2013 that entailed shuffling residential density around the development was contentious and laborious.
“It was not a pleasant experience in my mind,” Larson said.
That’s why he and vice chair Sarah Johnston told the project team they weren’t satisfied with the amount of information provided before the work session. They requested a summary of each phase of the subdivision’s convoluted history, as well as an in-depth summary of the most recent master plan amendment. Johnston added that she wanted the summary to be provided far in advance of the next work session so that the county planning staff had the time to fact check it against their own records.
“This is all very confusing and there are a lot of pieces,” she said.
The team agreed to return to P&Z for another work session armed with more historical context.
“The ultimate goal is to have a project that works for the county and works for the developer,” Bechtle said. “Because of the past controversy, I think that’s why this is important, making sure that we provide you with the information you’re looking for.”