Conservation - Development

A Teton County development tool was amended Tuesday by the Teton County Board of County Commissioners to allow owners of noncontiguous parcels to transfer density in exchange for permanent conservation.

A development tool for transferring density between noncontiguous parcels was amended Tuesday in a move intended to incentivize the preservation of highly valued open space.

The floor area option tool awards an applicant bonus floor area in exchange for permanent conservation of 90 percent of the site. While the Teton County Planning Department intended the tool to apply to both contiguous and noncontiguous sites when it was approved as a part of the rural land development regulation update in 2015, the statute didn’t specifically mention nonadjoining parcels.

The density transfer option was designed to allow large landowners additional floor area to build a guest house, but the development tool can be applied to nonresidential uses. A recent development inquiry from the Jackson Hole Classical Academy, which seeks to conserve land near the National Elk Refuge in exchange for additional floor area at its new school on South Park Loop Road brought the oversight to the county’s attention.

The Teton County Board of County Commissioners approved the amendment at its meeting Tuesday.

“I’ve been involved in conservation efforts in this valley and around the state for a very long time,” Jackson resident and businesswoman Clarene Law told the board during the meeting. “This is a simple amendment but an essential amendment. It lets us steer our destiny; it lets us put things where we want them to be.”

Alex Norton, the town and county’s long-range planner, said that the ability to transfer density would not increase development potential or modify the process of approval, but rather modify the location on which development is constructed.

“By definition the floor area option achieves better conservation than can be achieved by base zoning,” Norton wrote in a staff report. “Allowing it to be used on noncontiguous sites increases the likelihood that it will be used, which is beneficial. Prohibiting noncontiguous use of the floor area option would not increase predictability for neighbors because the same amount of development could still be achieved through a contiguous version of the conservation incentive.”

The key concern with allowing a transfer of density is that it could allow cluster development in certain areas of the county, potentially limiting the open space surrounding rural properties.

“The impacts of a noncontiguous transfer need to be carefully measured against the impact of what can already occur there and that’s substantial,” Teton County Commission Chairman Mark Newcomb said in the meeting.

The benefits of providing an incentive for property owners to permanently conserve highly valued parcels of land, however, outweighed individual desires to maintain the open space around private property.

“I understand that in approving this the benefits of approving high-value scenic resource area and wildlife areas outweigh the impact to me in having to make new friends in the future,” said Jeff Daugherty, who lives south of town. He also formerly served on the county’s Planning Commission.

“It has always been the intention from the comprehensive plan process plan through the updates of the LDRs to have carrots within the LDRs that achieve conservation,” Daugherty said.

The board passed the amendment unanimously.

“Twenty years ago, a very wise woman said to me, ‘You can’t stop change from happening, so put your energy into helping shape it,’” Commissioner Smokey Rhea said in closing. “That was Clarene Law. And I feel like that’s what we’re doing.

“We can’t stop change, but we know what we value, and this will allow us to make the right decisions.”

Contact John Spina at 732-5911, or @JHNGtown.

Cody Cottier covers town and state government. He grew up with a view of the Olympic Mountains, and after graduating Washington State University he traded it for a view of the Tetons. Odds are the mountains are where you’ll find him when not on deadline.

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