Thanks to a new set of rules clarifying how property owners manage historical buildings on their land, the bull barn on the Teton Raptor Center’s property will live to see another day.
“The bull barn is going to remain as a historic artifact here on the landscape,” Raptor Center Advancement Director Nick Delmolino said. “It will remain as part of the ranch history and the story of this place.”
Commissioners have completed a process they promised two years ago when they approved the Raptor Center’s controversial redevelopment plan in March 2018, tacking 14 conditions onto the approval. That decision came after three public hearings on the plan and has since ended up on the Wyoming Supreme Court’s docket.
One condition required the Raptor Center to wait two years to demolish the historic, 1,570-square-foot bull barn, which sits outside a building envelope established by a Jackson Hole Land Trust conservation easement. The county said it would use those two years to come up with a tool allowing the nonprofit to exempt the barn’s square footage from the rest of the Raptor Center’s 19,524-square-foot development plan.
The final details of the text amendment slid into place Feb. 18, about a month before the protections for the bull barn would have expired. The Raptor Center plans to use the tool immediately as it proceeds with construction. Advocates said the change would also have a positive, countywide impact.
Alex Norton, town and county planner-turned-consultant representing the Teton County Historic Preservation Board, which formally requested the change, said the importance of approving the rule change now was “relative” to the Raptor Center’s project.
“The benefit is across the county,” he added.
County commissioners, and before them, the Teton County Planning Commission, supported the text amendment unanimously.
The new rules go beyond the maximum square footage exemption the Raptor Center plans to use for the bull barn. It also allows property owners to make structural improvements to historic buildings as long as they are in their “historic location” and paves the way for historic buildings to be used as accessory residential units, or ARUs, that exceed zone-specific maximums.
For buildings to qualify, the Historic Preservation Board will have to dub them “historically significant” and approve plans to make alterations to their structures. In general, buildings will have to be on or near their historic location, though language differs between the three policies.
The goal of the amendment, advocates said, was not just to give the Raptor Center a tool for getting more square footage from the bull barn without destroying it. The intent is to provide landowners with incentives to protect, and continue to use, historic buildings.
Rich Bloom, a Raptor Center board member who doubles as a development watchdog, said the policies promote “adaptive reuse,” defined as “repurposing buildings that have outlived their original purpose for different purposes while at the same time retaining their historic features.”
“An old historic building that cannot be adapted to some useful purpose by an owner will not be saved,” he said.
County planners described the change, which is intended to be narrow, as an interim step preceding a set of wider-ranging policies geared toward protecting historic buildings.
In November a Colorado consultant presented the town with a report outlining the community’s priorities for historic preservation and possible tools to accomplish them. The town is expected to finalize a broader suite of incentives and regulations this spring. The county then plans to pick and choose policies from that roster to incorporate into its code.
“This application is kind of a step in between,” said Kristi Malone, senior long-range planner.