Teton County commissioners hope to resolve a debate over a regulation that allows for additional floor area in exchange for land conservation.

Called the “floor area option,” the provision in the rural land development regulations demands conservation of 90 percent of a site to qualify for the density bonus. The tool is designed as an incentive for owners of large properties to place their land under conservation.

Two other LDR tools allow for similar transfer processes, both of which permit noncontiguous use, meaning the pieces of land that generate the floor area bonus and those that receive them are not connected. The problem is that the LDRs are unclear on whether the floor area option tool can be used in this manner.

Jackson citizen Rich Bloom, who participated in the rewrite of the rural LDRs several years ago, warned commissioners that noncontiguous application of the floor area option could open up “Pandora’s box.”

“It would create a new floating density tool,” he said, “where unknown thousands of square feet of development potential could be magically created and moved from remote rural parcels and dropped on any other parcel throughout the county.”

He said such a tool would undermine the predictability that the comp plan and the LDRs are meant to provide.

“It would create the scenario where a neighbor could wake up and there’d be an application for an indoor motocross park or church or developed recreation site or assembly site on a parcel that was in a rural preservation or rural conservation area,” Bloom said.

Noncontiguous use of the floor area option would also allow for the transfer of development potential from one rural area to other rural areas, as opposed to being sent to designated complete neighborhoods, Bloom said. That defeats one of the goals of the comp plan, which seeks to transfer density to already dense neighborhoods and preserve dwindling open space.

The Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance wrote a letter to the county echoing Bloom’s worries. Executive Director Skye Schell said it’s important that the county’s rules be clear out of fairness to those filing development applications.

Schell is also concerned that a noncontiguous floor area option could allow residential development potential to be transferred and converted into commercial or institutional development.

“If you allow noncontiguous use of the floor area option, large residential-to-nonresidential transfers could dramatically change the character of the resulting neighborhoods,” Schell’s letter read.

Planning Director Tyler Sinclair wants to allow the Board of County Commissioners to clarify the regulation. He has proposed a text amendment that would officially allow the floor area option on noncontiguous properties.

Sinclair said he thinks that incentivizing conservation for rural property owners is an important goal in the comp plan and LDRs, and that a noncontiguous floor area option allows for exactly that. But he understands why some might be cautious.

“When you look at it countywide, the goal is conservation and preservation,” Sinclair said. “But if you’re the noncontiguous site that’s getting the increased development and some other area is benefitting from the conservation, that’s where this case-by-case analysis as to whether its provable and consistent with the comp plan comes into play.”

Sinclair believes the analysis of individual proposals will resolve community concerns and ensure compliance with the comp plan.

The proposed LDR amendment is scheduled to come before the Planning Commission on Oct. 23. The county commissioners will take it up Nov. 21.

County Commissioners Smokey Rhea and Mark Newcomb said they want to learn more about potential unintended consequences the text amendment could have.

“If the land doesn’t have to be contiguous, it’s huge,” Rhea said. “I would like to see what’s the worst that could happen, and is there any way to try and put some safeguards on there.”

Discussion about whether noncontiguous use is allowed was spurred by news that the Jackson Hole Classical Academy was pursuing a pre-application conference to use the tool for a new school facility.

Those worried about the use of the tool in this case are clear that they’re not against the academy’s proposal itself. Rather, they’re worried that using the tool for noncontiguous lands could open the door to other problematic future development.

Polly Friess, head of the Classical Academy, said the school is dedicated to working with the county and the community through the public process to develop the new school.

“We are committed to getting it right,” Friess said. “We are listening, thinking and working to find smart, thoughtful and unifying solutions so that we pursue the best path.”

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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