shawn hill mug.jpg

I was sorry to read of Molly Absolon’s frustrations expressed in her editorial last week (Fenn is Black and White, Teton Valley News, June 16, 2019). Such frustrations, in my opinion, are cured by open communication and good, old-fashioned sunlight.

Developers of the Fenn project have been opaque with their development plans, and many see them as gaming the system. Multiple requests for more information from VARD and city leaders have been ignored. In the absence of such information, I created a massing model to demonstrate the sheer mass (not design) of the proposed project. The response from the developer and the city are the same: “Hey — that’s not what the project is going to look like!” Okay, then, what will it look like?

They promise an attractive project, but the forthcoming preliminary plat and design review allow little room for negotiation. I helped craft design guidelines for Victor, and that’s precisely why I’m concerned. They are basic standards for small-scale infill development, not a magic wand. To test this theory, I hired an architect to create schematics of cottage court units that meet the design guidelines, and my suspicions proved true: slap on a bay window, a porch, some cedar shakes, and you’re good to go.

Minutes before the city council approved the Fenn rezone, the developer handed out a site plan depicting my worst fears. The units are long and skinny (trailer-like, some would say), arranged at haphazard angles, while access drives, parking spaces, and what appear to be garages or storage units line the perimeter. Roads appear to stub out to surrounding fields, and undefined buildings (hotel, 4-plexes, apartments?) front the Hwy 33 corridor.

As a city planner, I struggle with the city’s blind enthusiasm for this project. VARD estimates over 100 housing units under construction in the City of Victor, while over 400 vacant residential lots remain.There is no assurance the project will provide workforce housing, as there are no set price points nor deed restrictions that respond to Teton Valley’s well-documented housing need. Drive out to Packsaddle Road and 3000 W, and you’ll see another development originally pitched as an “affordable housing” — double-wides starting at $280k.

VARD is the product of an engaged, seasoned citizenry. As its Executive Director, I try mightily to meet public comment deadlines, and respond on-the-fly to new information introduced in public hearings. However, I’m no match for government officials who control public comment proceedings, nor developers with an all-access pass to said proceedings. I just paid a $300 records fee for 900+ pages of communication between the developer and city officials, and I still can’t figure out why the city has chosen to advocate for something so despised by the community.

These character-defining farm fields comprise the last unmarred entrance to Victor. Once the Fenn property is developed, the neighboring fields will all go to sprawl, piece by piece. Is this the desired legacy of the city council? More importantly, will the public stand for it?

Shawn Hill is the executive director, Valley Advocates for Responsible Development

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