Local elected officials fear a bill that paves the way for family subdivisions would prompt an unregulated boom in density throughout the county’s rural areas. As the House nears its third and final vote on the proposal today, a tweaked version seeks to ensure it serves its purpose of allowing ranching families to split off land for their kids while reducing its threat to Teton County’s rural character.

Rep. Andy Schwartz, D-Teton, proposed the amendment. On the House floor, Rep. Jim Roscoe, I-Teton/Lincoln/Sublette, suggested the bill be amended to curtail the “temptation” to abuse the family subdivision law for real estate speculation in places like Teton County with high land values.

“It proves irresistible for many, and that’s not really the intent of the law here,” Roscoe said.

The new version of the bill requires families to hold land for 10 years (currently it’s five) before accessing the family exemption. It also requires the family member receiving the subdivided parcel to hold it for five years (currently one) before selling it off. The idea is the longer holding periods will reduce abuse.

State law exempts family homesites from subdivision restrictions. That means large landowners, like local ranching families, can carve out chunks of their properties to hand over to family members without following county planning processes and requirements for subdividing.

But in Teton County, many landowners can’t use the state provision because rural county zoning requires parcels to be a minimum of 35 acres each to preserve open space and wildlife habitat. So while a subdivision can be created using the state exemption, nothing can be constructed on the resulting subdivided parcels, because the county won’t grant a building permit.

The bill’s sponsor, Shelly Duncan, R-Goshen, said House Bill 196 allows family ranches to utilize the exemption as intended by state law by requiring Teton County to issue those building permits.

But state and local officials say counties need the authority to regulate subdivisions to control infrastructure like roads and sewer. They say the family exemption could be easily “gamed” to circumvent the comprehensive plan and allow for the “suburbanization” of low-density areas of Teton County.

Contact Allie Gross at 732-7063, county@jhnewsandguide.com or @JHNGcounty.

Allie Gross covers Teton County government. Originally from the Chicago area, she joined the News&Guide in 2017 after studying politics and Spanish at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

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