An Alta family seeking county approval to host weddings as a way to supplement their ranching income and avoid subdividing their property will need to provide more detailed plans before getting an OK.

Meredith Wilson and his family, who have owned the 169-acre ranch with sweeping Teton views for 130 years, made their case Jan. 4 to county commissioners.

Commissioners questioned not if weddings should be allowed, but how such events should be managed.

In contrast, some neighbors and a land use advocacy group questioned the long-term impact of allowing weddings and using a conditional use permit as a tool to do so.

The proposal drew hours of public comment with 14 people speaking in favor of the Wilsons’ original proposal and seven raising concerns about traffic, noise and safety. Ultimately, commissioners voted to postpone a final decision, asking for a more detailed operating plan first.

The Wilsons maintain that their original request for 30 outdoor events and 30 indoor receptions in a yet-to-be constructed reception hall will be necessary to keep the ranch — where they raise livestock, barley and hay — in one piece for generations to come.

“If we’re not allowed to be able to support our family, the alternative would be to build subdivisions,” eldest Wilson daughter Isabel Beard said. “The traffic and pedestrians and all other sound, all other concerns would be severely greater than 30 days out of the year.”

Her father, Meredith, said he wasn’t sure they would ever get up to 30 events a year.

“Even if we are allowed those 30 events, and if we ever get to that point, that will still allow 335 days out of the year where neighbors and those who traveled through would have an unsullied view of the cultural operation that we have, as well as the wildlife that frequent the property,” he said.

Teton County Planning Commissioners previously recommended reducing the original proposal of 30 outdoor events to 15, with the condition that no two events would occur simultaneously at the indoor and outdoor sites to limit traffic, parking nuisances and noise.

Neighbors who wanted to see the Wilsons’ event business thrive pushed back on the planning commission’s reduction, calling it “arbitrary” while pointing to the high cost of construction and required annual review as reasons the 30 events were both necessary and reasonable.

“I think we need to give them a shot at letting them try this,” Alta resident Devin Moncur said. “Like another commenter said, this is going back to review every year and there’s going to be an opportunity to comment in the future.”

Senior Planner Chandler Windom acknowledged there “wasn’t too much consideration of the actual number” set by the planning commissioners, though she said the goal was to limit neighborhood impact during the limited outdoor event time-frame of May 1 to Oct. 31.

Double Diamond Bar Ranch neighbor Karen Cummings said she could support Meredith Wilson having “some events” on his property, but, along with several other residents, insisted 30 would be too much.

Niki Richards, interim director at Valley Advocates for Responsible Development, asked for more studies of possible impacts and a community engagement plan prior to granting the conditional use permits.

“Teton County, Idaho, is stretched thin these days as-is,” she said “Where will event guests sleep, eat, get gas and groceries?”

Like Cummings, Richards was concerned the conditional use permits, or CUPs, would set a bad precedent for the rural neighborhood. Other landowners could theoretically take advantage of similar proposals for supplemental income.

“Approving CUPs for the sake of a person’s supplemental income isn’t a precedent in Teton County, Wyoming, and doesn’t need to be now,” Richards said.

Likewise, Teton County, Idaho, resident Anne Callison said: “I feel for the Wilsons but this use is inappropriate.”

Callison said she wanted the Wilsons and Wyoming planning staff to talk to the fire department and law enforcement over the state line about managing emergency responses that would fall on Idaho taxpayers.

Commissioners did little to address concerns about setting precedents and straining Teton County, Idaho, resources. Instead, their discussion focused on traffic and road safety on the Wyoming side.

“Based upon when I toured the site and based upon comments from neighbors, I think maybe the most significant rub or issue is the Alta North Road,” said Commissioner Luther Propst, referencing potential risks tied to a proposed overflow parking lot there.

Alta North Road, with its blind turns and lack of lighting, was repeatedly referred to as a hazard for party-goers walking to their cars at night during public comment.

Propst encouraged the Wilsons’ representative Hal Hutchinson to eliminate the overflow parking lot on Alta North Road and establish a maximum number of guests for the lot directly off Ski Hill Road.

“That maximum could be based on parking, but also a transportation management program that encourages the use of buses,” Propst said.

Hutchinson agreed on the spot to nix the overflow lot and put the guest cap around 200 people.

“I’d need to take a look at what options there are for shuttling but shuttling would alleviate, I think, some of the pressure on the parking. [But] I’m not suggesting that a shuttle program would increase the number of people attending past 200,” Hutchinson said.

Commissioner Greg Epstein said the most important missing piece was a transportation plan. Epstein also said it would be best to delay the vote until Commission Chair Natalia Macker returned from a temporary leave.

Commissioner Mark Newcomb wanted more details in general.

“I would feel pretty comfortable allowing this site to move forward if we had a lot more clarity,” Newcomb said.

For his part, Commissioner Mark Barron was ready to back the full 30-event proposal.

“I note that this application has been supported by staff, supported by the planning commission and a majority of his neighbors,” Barron said. “There may be some minutiae, and I’m not opposed to continuing this so that we can have five commissioners participate in this.”

Now commissioners are slated to decide on the permits Feb. 15.

“I would feel pretty comfortable allowing this site to move forward if we had a lot more clarity.” — Mark Newcomb Teton County Commissioner

Contact Sophia Boyd-Fliegel at sbf@jhnewsandguide or 307-733-2047.

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