1. First of all, we need to decisively quantify the total number of dwelling units currently allowed in each of the Districts identified in the current Draft, using only base zoning district allowances without density bonuses of any kind. I envision a detailed Excel spreadsheet divided into different Districts (per the current draft,) with subcategories for each of the anticipated or current zoning districts within that District. ARU's currently allowed by right should be included as a separate column adjacent to the base dwelling unit number, with an additional column for the total. This comprehensive Buildout Spreadsheet can then be used to establish the Total Buildout allowed by the 1994 Comprehensive Plan without density bonuses. This number shall be the Total Buildout for all of Teton County, and shall not be increased, except in the single circumstance I will describe later. Throughout the Comprehensive Plan, whatever its final incarnation, the word "buildout" should be used to describe the future development that gets us to this number. "Growth" should refer to future development beyond that buildout. I think I understand the reasoning behind omitting ARU's from the county numbers while including them in the town numbers, but this inconsistency needs to be eliminated. The Total Buildout number may still include some or all of these ARU's, or there may be some provisional inclusion of ARU's, but whatever the Total Buidout number is, it must be clearly and unequivocally illustrated by the spreadsheet.
2. An Annual Growth Rate Cap must be established along with a mechanism for administering development or building permit approvals in order to enforce that cap, so that we can truly "Grow Slow, Grow Smart." I suggest we start the conversation with an Annual Growth rate Cap of 1% per year. Though the details must still be worked out, and there may be exceptions to the actual number of building permits allowed under this Annual Growth Rate Cap (for example, single family homes being built by single families rather than speculative builders,) Implementation of this measure should insure that we don't reach Total Buildout for about 100 years. It also represents only a modest downsizing of the growth rate we've actually been experiencing for the last few years. It is unclear to me at the moment whether there should be a 1% cap for commercial projects and a 1% cap for residential projects, if the cap should be 1% total, or if there should be some proportion of commercial and residential permits allowed which actually exceeds 1%, these are areas which clearly need some investigation. It is also unclear to me how the current growth rate of 1.2% per year would get us to Total Buildout in only 30-40 years instead of 80 years (page I-3.)
3. It has also become clear that much more information related to the county's extensive and varied wildlife habitat needs to be assembled and incorporated into a much more detailed and location specific (presumably organized by District) Natural Resources Overlay, or set of Natural Resource Overlays. This set of geographic overlays should include not only the presence of "focal species" mentioned in the current Comp Plan Draft, which would serve as the only basis for mapping the entire NRO in the current Draft,, but should include the habitat and vegetative cover types data listed in the Wyoming Game & Fish comments document dated 6/26/09. In general, I find this document to be very useful and on-target, and support the inclusion of most of the recommendations contained within it, especially the notion of including site specific buffer zones between NRO boundaries adjacent to potential areas of increased density. I do however, disagree with one suggestion in this document, that the updated NRO should be used to establish where potential density nodes should occur. I believe the specific nodes included in the current plan are generally appropriate as they're location is based on already existing patterns of increased density and/or commercial activity. These areas, to a greater or lesser extent are already nodes. It is paramount that any future development in and around these nodes be wildlife permeable, and strong, specific language to that effect must be included in the Comp Plan. An updated NRO also needs to connect disparate areas of the current NRO in order to acknowledge the nature of wildlife movement throughout the valley. Where distinct sections of the updated NRO are bisected by current development patterns or traffic corridors, appropriate locations for wildlife movement through or across these developed areas should be identified for potential future highway over or underpasses, or potential purchase b y the county itself. A funding source for such purchases must also be investigated and identified.
4. As an overall planning concept, I strongly support the idea of limiting development in the county's rural areas and concentrating future buildout in already established (or potentially newly created) nodes. This is of course, a balancing act dependant on the state mandated development potential of Teton County's rural lands, 1 unit per 35 acres. Since the development potential of our rural lands is the largest contributor to our Total Buildout number, and the preservation of our open spaces and wildlife habitat (largely located on undeveloped privately owned rural properties) our number 1 priority, it makes sense to try to shift the development potential out of the rural zone towards already established density nodes throughout the county, and I feel the current draft is on-target in that respect. I also think I understand the motivation for Policy 2.1, allowing rural development only in the rural zone and town level development only in the nodes, but I strongly disagree with the concept. The motivation for this policy would seem to be concentrating the development potential extracted from rural lands in the smallest possible footprint with in the nodes. This policy completely disregards the existing character of the already established nodes themselves, and needs to be revised so that proposed densities remain in character with the already established bulk, scale & character of the already existing nodes. Open space and wildlife habitat are not the only things worthy of preservation in Teton County. Limiting Total Buildout to state mandated minimum will help reduce the amount of density which needs to be shifted to the nodes, but will most likely have an adverse effect on the potential for landowners to place conservation easements on rural properties. Since the community's number 1 priority is and has always been conservation, this end result is not ideal.
I would therefore like to investigate the possibility of enacting Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) ordinances aimed at mandating and facilitating the shift of development potential from rural lands to appropriate nodes within the town and county, an idea which I have suggested repeatedly during the course of our discussions on the Comp Plan which has never been given any serious consideration as far as I can tell. I have been told repeatedly that this strategy is "too difficult to achieve" or "too hard to figure out." I'm not suggesting it would be an easy solution to achieving the seemingly conflicting goals of shifting development away from rural lands while still encouraging landowners to encumber their properties with permanent conservation easements, it won't. But if TDR regulations do have the potential to accomplish both of these goals, isn't it worth whatever time and effort it takes to seriously consider them? I'm no expert on this so I suggest we take the remaining $1,100. budgeted for consultants to aid in our Comp Plan update and invite an expert in this concept to walk us through the process and help us brainstorm how this might work for our particular situation at another workshop focused on the issue of encouraging conservation easements on rural properties while limiting their buildout potential at the same time. Obviously, representatives of the Jackson Hole Land Trust and other conservation organizations would also be invited to participate. This is a very complicated scenario, and it will be very difficult to sort through all of the nuances and legal constraints, but there is a chance it can work to accomplish our community's most valued goals and protect the property rights of the individuals and families in who's debt we as a community already are for their historic stewardship of much of the open space we in Teton County all cherish. I also think Policy 1.6.c "Recognize agriculturalists for their stewardship" is weak and insignificant compared to the community's debt to these individuals and families as it is currently written.
The scenario I'm running through my head goes something like this:
Let's say we craft Land Development Regulations (LDR's) which limit the development potential in the Rural Zone to the state mandated 1 DU/35 acres, we eliminate current density bonuses, and mandate rather than incentivize clustering using a sliding scale relative to the size of the property. This reduces our Total Buildout to the minimum that exists under our current regulations, and guarantees a significant amount of open space on properties on which the owner wants to allow a limited number of houses, (for their children for example.) At the same time, we enact ordinances which allow the conversion of those 1DU/35 acre state mandated development rights to (2) or (3) Transferable Development Rights which can only be used in town or in established nodes, and require permanent conservation easements. Based on the information received at our recent workshop, this should provide a large enough financial incentive for a conservation minded landowner to give up those development rights and grant a permanent conservation easement on the property, sell those TDR's to an "in town" developer, or some combination of the two options (build a few clustered houses on one parcel, sell the the TDR's. on the rest.) I realize that this is a simplified description of a very complicated process, but it seems to me to be worth investigating, as I can think of no other way to accomplish both goals; limiting Total Buildout by lowering development in the Rural Zone to 1DU/35 acres, as well as incentivizing conservation easements. This is the single circumstance I referred to earlier which would increase the Total Buildout number for the county above what is currently permitted, but this increase is directly tied to the granting of permanent conservation easements on rural lands, a tradeoff I believe a majority of the community would support.
5. Quantify and identify appropriate locations for Public/ Semi-Public community infrastructure and amenities throughout the county for schools, Start bus facilities, public parks (including a dedicated dog park,) and a landfill site to accommodate the trash generated by this community and currently shipped to Sublette County. If we are truly committed to the concept of "sustainability within our regional context," we need to acknowledge and confront the hypocrisy of exporting our trash to outlying communities. Teton County needs to deal with the waste it generates within its own borders. Without actually confronting the amount of trash we generate, we'll never be motivated to reduce it, because as it is today it simply "goes away." I realize this is a very unpopular issue, so all I am suggesting is that we include some language which at least plants the seed for future regulations, such as:
Policy 1.3.e: Increase recycling and composting
The disposal of solid waste in a landfill involves not only long term decomposition but also long distance transportation or necessitates the construction of a landfill within Teton County. The construction of a landfill within Teton County would be consistent with the goals outlined in the Community Vision and Sustainability chapters of this document. The community will increase opportunities for recycling, reuse, and composting to minimize the solid waste that must be hauled to a landfill.
6. Revise the Vision Statement, the founding principal upon which the Comp Plan is based. I suggest the following:
The 2009 Jackson/Teton County Community Vision Statement: “Our number one goal: Preserve and protect the area’s unparalleled natural ecosystem while meeting the community's human needs in an environmentally responsible manner which celebrates instead of degrades this significant and unique place on the face of our shared planet." I believe a statement such as this one more accurately exemplifies the predominant sentiment of our local community and alludes to Teton County's rightful place as an environmental leader within the larger context of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, and holds us up as an example to the rest of our increasingly interdependent global community. This statement needs to state unequivocally our commitment to what remains of the wild, natural world within the boundaries of this arbitrary jurisdiction as well as the implications our decisions and actions have on the health of the planet as a whole. As a community, we have a unique opportunity to lead by example, and the global exposure to export our shared values and influence opinions around the world. We need to embrace this opportunity and step up to the challenge of leadership without compromise.
I have now, and will have more input and suggestions to offer Staff, the Board of County Commissioners, our counterparts on the Town of Jackson Planning Commission, the Jackson Town Council and the public in general as this process continues. This document outlines a few of the most important issues that I feel need to be addressed in a Revised Comprehensive Plan more in line with the community's as well as my own opinions, and represents a starting point only in the conversation that I hope will result in a plan acceptable enough to all interested parties to be forwarded to our Board of County Commissioners and Town Council for their review and ultimate adoption.
I also strongly believe that whatever the form our ultimate recommendations to staff evolve into, these recommendations MUST be made by a Joint Planning Commission speaking with one voice. The worst possible outcome to this process would be the adoption of two different Comprehensive Plans, one for the county and one for the town. This outcome would represent a Fragmented Plan rather than a Comprehensive Plan, and I personally resolve to do everything within my power to prevent that from happening.
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!