Jackson Hole, WY News

Proposed ag land taxing

The Lockhart ranch and Jackson Hole Hereford Ranch on the south end of Jackson viewed from Antelope Butte (aka High School Butte) in a panorama of two images. Longtime local ranchers are pushing for a bill that would allow building on smaller parcels that have been subdivided for relatives. Opponents say the bill would undercut the county’s planning efforts.

Longtime local ranchers are pushing for a bill that would allow use of a state law to carve out small homesites for their children. But state and local elected officials say the bill would wreak havoc on Teton County’s rural planning efforts, which emphasize open space and wildlife habitat.

In a discussion Monday the Teton County Board of County Commissioners floated ideas that could strike a middle ground and possibly offer amendments to House Bill 196.

A Wyoming statute exempts family homesites from subdivision restrictions. Landowners can break off chunks of their property to hand over to family members without following the county planning process for subdividing.

In Teton County, however, many landowners can’t use the state provision. County zoning in rural areas requires parcels be a minimum of 35 acres to be developed. So while landowners can subdivide, nothing can be built on the new parcel.

The bill would require Teton County to issue building permits for subdivisions created through the family exemption.

But state and local elected officials worry that high land values will drive a rush of unregulated subdivisions that would threaten the county’s rural character and potentially strain infrastructure.

Commissioner Greg Epstein said the purported intent of the bill is to enable legacy agriculture families to create housing for their families, but “the problem is it can be gamed around real estate speculation very easily.”

Epstein suggested the bill could be amended to require landowners to hold the land even longer than now required before subdivision. As is, the law requires a landowner must first hold a parcel for at least five years. After the land is subdivided the receiving family member must hold on to it for one year before another sale or transfer.

The bill could also be amended, Epstein said, to require the subdivided property be classified as agricultural in order to limit the exemption to use by large landowning ranching families. Once the exempt subdivision occurs the resulting homesite could be required to be taxed as residential property, which has a higher tax rate than agricultural land. Or in order for the five-year holding period to “kick in,” the statute could require a certificate of occupancy to ensure the home was in use as intended.

Commissioner Mark Barron applauded the ideas, saying it’s easier to get a bill amended than rejected. The board asked staff to prepare a report analyzing the implications of the bill.

The Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee unanimously approved House Bill 196. It is expected to come before the House this week.

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

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