County Commission meeting

The Teton County Board of County Commissioners heard public comment at an earlier meeting about the Jackson Hole Classical Academy’s proposal to change rural regulations. On Thursday the commission rejected the school’s bid to increase the maximum building size in rural areas.

The Jackson Hole Classical Academy will have to live with a 10,000-square-foot gym after elected officials rejected its request for an additional 5,000 feet, which its administrators say is necessary for a fully functioning facility.

Because the zoning for the school’s proposed location in South Park limits maximum size to the smaller area — and because it is not allowed to seek a unique exemption for itself — the academy asked for a broader revision to the rural land development regulations. But the Teton County Board of County Commissioners wasn’t willing to face the risks of undermining policies that commissioners said were carefully crafted to align with county values.

“As commissioners,” Chairman Mark Newcomb said, “we’re really striving to recognize the desire and the need and to support the effort for choice in education … and at the same time struggling with the notion that we really want to protect the open-space values in the county.”

The contentious request for a change in zoning, and the academy’s new school in general, have set two groups against each other throughout a process Commissioner Natalia Macker called “personal and ugly and, at times, disappointing.”

Dozens of people stood in line at the board’s meeting Thursday to praise or condemn the proposal. The lines were largely drawn between parents of academy students and those who feel it will benefit the community broadly, and rural neighbors loath to see development in the area.

Some critics, including former Commissioner Sandy Shuptrine, argued that allowing larger buildings throughout the county’s rural districts would blunt safeguards written into the town and county’s Comprehensive Plan, a guiding document meant to protect the environment and local character.

“I am particularly worried,” Shuptrine said, “about affecting our Comp Plan by a thousand cuts, and the unintended consequences of moving forward at this time.”

Supporters cited the shortage of gym space in Teton County as the main justification for granting the zoning change. A larger gym, they said, would provide room not just for academy students, but for the community in general.

“I assure you that the ... academic experience of all students in the valley will be improved,” said Sam Lunz, head boys basketball coach at Jackson Hole High School. “More than 10,000 square feet is necessary.”

Academy representatives noted that several buildings over that size already exist within rural districts, including the Three Creek Clubhouse and Journeys School buildings. Leah Corrigan, the academy’s attorney, said the 10,000-square-foot limit was established for second homes and argued that the school should not be equated with residential uses.

Macker said the real problem may be that the county has done away with variances related to density, through which the school could have sought a case-specific exception to the zoning. Its sole option was to request a far-reaching amendment to the size regulations.

Corrigan confirmed that.

“This is the only path,” she said. “That’s why we’re here.”

Macker said she would be interested in reconsidering variances, though others argued that the county should avoid them to maintain predictability in development. If the board allowed a variance, the academy could try that route to obtain a larger gym.

Meanwhile, a state bill introduced last week would strip local zoning authority over private schools, in what many have decried as an attempt at end-run legislation. Newcomb several times cut off public commenters who mentioned the bill, calling it a separate matter.

Editors note: This article has been revised to reflect that the county has eliminated variances related to density, not all variances.

Contact Tom Hallberg at 732-5902 or

Tom Hallberg covers a little bit of everything, from skiing to long-form feature stories. A Teton Valley, Idaho, transplant by way of Portland and Bend, Oregon, he spends his time outside work writing fiction, splitboarding and climbing.

(3) comments

Dave Valley

The fact that Teton County won't allow the use of variances to address community needs as they change is what got us into this position. It is a perfect example of why we need different leadership in Teton County. The idea that we know what the future holds and we should tie our hands today is pure stupidity.

I hope the school gets the state bill passed; however, I will say that it was probably a good idea that the local proposal didn't pass because it would have changed land-use policies county-wide instead of being limited to this one parcel.

The state bill restricts its focus to the development of private schools. It should have been written to say that VARIANCES MUST be considered for private schools. Instead it allows for all private schools to just slide through the application process like a public school. That's a flaw but not a bill killer IMO. I accept it.

Here is Teton County's reasoning for eliminating variances (most counties in the USA use variances) :

"The key is that Teton County is attempting to have predictability in their land development regulations rather than flexibility and discretion..." Teton County's Keith Gingery.

Let's look at Keith's thinking:

We are providing the wealthy with predictability? We don't give that to the poor. Why do they get it? The future isn't predictable for anyone; however, Keith wants to enshrine it as a God-given right for the wealthy second-homeowners. They aren't worthy to get special treatment. They aren't even residents in many cases (3 Creek).

The only promises we should provide the wealthy are the basic promises we make to all: to consider their interests and the community's interests when it comes to development in the county. Basic zoning rules such as limiting private industrial facilities next to residential homes are fine but they should not discriminate.

Considering that we build industrial facilities right next to homes in poor areas (Gregory Lane), and we allow strip clubs in poor areas (off Gregory Lane), it seems like a school in South Park is just what the rich deserve. All the more so if they hate the idea.

John Sinson

Did the gubment apply this level of scrutiny to any of the public scrools in this county? They look enormous.

Terry Hanks

"they look enormous" what an outstanding analysis you've given. Can't argue you there.

Welcome to the discussion.

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