Nine years ago, Teton Valley adopted the current Comprehensive Plan. Winning an award from the American Planning Association, it was drafted with over 4,000 public engagements, countless meetings, and seemingly endless public deliberations. It recognized that Teton Valley is a special place, and that protecting this special place was essential to its economic, social, and environmental success. The Land Use Code is the tool that ensures the Comprehensive Plan’s implementation. After nine years of drafting, redrafting, rethinking, engaging, re-engaging, and redeliberating, Teton County is poised to adopt a new Land Use Code that will implement the Comprehensive Plan.
The draft Code is a common sense way to protect Teton County’s quality of life and rural character. It has the potential to preserve our scenic open spaces, unspoiled views, wildlife, and recreational opportunities. It will also encourage smart development that sustains property values while fostering sustainable economic growth and preventing suburban sprawl. It seeks to keep Teton Valley as Teton Valley, rejecting the sprawling development that has overtaken other communities.
The valley’s dalliance with suburban sprawl and high-end resort development during the 1990’s and early 2000’s threatened the very thing that made us special. The Comprehensive Plan, instead, sought to return the valley to its roots by preserving its natural resources, protecting its rural character, promoting vibrant towns, and sustaining our quality of life. The draft Land Use Code incorporates these goals. It’s also simpler and less voluminous than the current code. The new code is more direct, written in plain English, intuitively organized, and more appropriate for a small community like ours.
The new code grants more flexibility to landowners while promoting open space. Absent is the current scheme of cookie-cutter 2.5-acre and 20-acre lots spread across the landscape. Instead, the new code allows for “Average Density,” where lots of varying size can be created to fit the landscape and existing infrastructure so long as the number of lots is below the maximum density. This allows parcels to be divided up into small lots clustered together, placed at corners of a center-pivot, tucked in the toe of a hill, lined up against a county road, or any other layout that protects the character of the landscape while lessening the need for extensive roads and infrastructure. This is not allowed in the current code.
The new code is also less bureaucratic. It allows for small subdivisions to be platted administratively. It relies less on the subjective Conditional Use Permits and, instead, lists out certain requirements for certain types of development. Review processes are more standardized and more predictable for landowners and the public alike.
We’ve seen concerns expressed about bees, fences, short-term rentals, churches, and density. The first four are easily fixed. Density, however, is proposed to go down in certain areas because the 2.5-acre or 20-acre zoning in many places didn’t make sense in the first place. Other Idaho counties typically deal in 20, 40, 80, and 160-acre parcels for rural areas, leaving dense residential and commercial development to the cities. Though the proposed code is more permissive than some of these other counties, it attempts to hedge preservation of natural resources and protection of agricultural heritage through the flexibility of Average Density Zoning.
The new code supports the affordable housing goals of the Comprehensive Plan and the Teton County Strategic Housing Plan. Despite there being lots of lots and loose regulations in Teton County, there is hardly any affordable housing. This is because land, construction, and sitework costs exceed what most families can afford. Teton Valley is special, and the world knows it. For a few decades now, outside capital has driven up the costs of housing in Teton Valley, and COVID-19 turbocharged the escalation. The solution to affordable housing in our valley is the battery of tools currently being implemented by various organizations in the valley.
VARD heartily supports the proposed code, and we hope you do, too. We have recommended a series of changes in order to further standardize processes, incorporate maps, require detailed plans for commercial development, promote affordable housing, and a variety of minor technical changes. You can view our comment letter at tetonvalleyadvocates.org. You can also express your opinion about the code by submitting a comment letter to email@example.com or by attending the public hearing on Tuesday, May 18th at 5pm. In-person attendance or Zoom instructions can be found on the county’s website at www.tetoncountyidaho.gov.
We hope that you will engage and support the new Land Use Code. It’s been a long time coming, and your engagement and support can ensure its adoption. By doing so, you can protect the character of the valley we love for generations.