The Teton County Planning and Zoning Commission took its first step in the process of updating the county land development code by hearing four hours of mostly negative public comment about the draft code on May 18.
The Teton High School auditorium, which holds 750 people, was around a third full, and another hundred or so spectators participated via Zoom. Untold more attempted to listen to the audio streamed on the county website, but the hybrid nature of the meeting and equipment challenges made it difficult to understand the proceedings.
The land development code is a legal framework that governs all future land use proposals in the county (not within the cities) according to the county’s comprehensive plan. A steering committee composed of a county commissioner, two former P&Z commissioners, and planning staff has been working for almost two years with consulting firm Logan Simpson to rewrite the existing code, which is decades old.
The proposed code, a draft of which was released in mid-April, has garnered significant opposition from the community. Before the public hearing, the planning department had received approximately 4,000 pages of written comment, predominantly from people who were against the code entirely or who had concerns about specific elements of it.
“We are here to listen,” P&Z commission chair Jack Haddox told the audience on Tuesday night. He reiterated that the commission would hold at least one work session to comb through the many comments and begin revising the draft, before holding another meeting where more public comment will be taken. Eventually, P&Z will give its recommendation to the county commissioners, who will hold their own public hearing before making a decision.
The agricultural community was well-represented at the meeting, but the people who spoke in person were not only ranchers and farmers, but also lawyers, small business owners, real estate agents, restauranteurs, religious leaders, developers, and community members who had served on P&Z, city council, the board of county commissioners, and the school board.
Many of the 80 or so people who spoke brought up broad ideas like freedom and property rights, and some decried “special interest groups” and “move-ins,” while others spent their allotted three minutes explaining which parts of the code were problematic. Recurring specific issues included short term rental regulation, scenic corridors, fencing, church lot size, beekeeping, dude ranch limitations, and home business regulation, as well as the larger concern that the new code does away with the county’s current 2.5-acre and 20-acre minimum lot sizes in exchange for larger lot sizes and average lot density.
“We’re spending hours here tonight because we care about where we live,” said Nick Ricks, summing up the mood of the evening.
Several people requested that the P&Z bring on commissioners who represent the agricultural community, large landowners, and business owners. There are two vacancies on P&Z right now, and the county commissioners choose who is appointed to the body. Wade Kaufman, a former Driggs City Council member, pointed out in his comments that he had twice applied for P&Z and been passed over, and that he had just submitted his application to the county for the third time.
Haddox told the crowd that P&Z had recommended to the county commissioners that they carefully consider representation when making new appointments to the board. He said he expects the seats to be filled before P&Z makes a decision on the code.
“We did hear the emotion and the feelings tonight,” Haddox said after the stream of speakers ended, pointing to the pages of notes he and his fellow commissioners had taken during the meeting. “This draft code we’re looking at is now the responsibility of this planning and zoning commission and we’re going to take the time to go through these comments and see what we can do with them.”