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County suspends rules that OK density swaps

By Kevin Huelsmann, Jackson Hole Daily
April 18, 2013

An 11-month moratorium was approved Tuesday on a planning tool that trades density bonuses for open space guarantees on large rural properties.

Landowners won’t be able to use the planned residential development tool until Jan. 1, 2014. Commissioners approved the freeze 4-1, with Barbara Allen casting the "no" vote.

County planners initially proposed a moratorium through the end of October, but commissioners said that date was unrealistic. They wanted to put the temporary ban in place so they can update land-use regulations for outlying portions of the county.

"I'm not saying that all [planned residential developments] are good or bad," county commissioner Ben Ellis said Tuesday. "It’s a complex issue that we need space to handle from a regulatory perspective."

Landowners didn’t raise any complaints about the proposed freeze, which commissioners have been discussing for several months. But some board members were hesitant to put the moratorium in place, let alone extend its length.

“I want to make sure that we’re realistic, but I also want to get this done in the shortest amount of time possible,” county commissioner Melissa Turley said.

Allen said the ban could make it difficult for landowners to plan.

“What happens when we keep pushing it out?” she said. “What if someone is trying to do estate planning? What this is doing is creating uncertainty that is unfair to our landowners.”

The tool has been discussed by commissioners to allow them time to put new regulations in place. They’re entering the first phase of turning the Jackson/Teton County Comprehensive Plan into new rules.

While town planners are trying to tackle new rules for downtown Jackson, including rules for hotels, county planners are focusing their attention on the rural parts of the valley.

The main goal of the new comprehensive plan is to ensure that new development is directed to existing neighborhoods, away from large, open tracts of land and wildlife habitat. To do so, county planners must find a way to encourage landowners not to develop visually and ecologically important land or, conversely, implement restrictions to discourage the practice.

The planned residential development tool is most often used in the parts of the county that the new comprehensive plan seeks to protect. Planners have estimated that it accounts for more than half of the development potential in the unincorporated parts of the county.

“Because the county seeks to direct future growth out of rural areas, the development potential allowed by the [tool] is likely to decrease,” planners said in a report prepared for comâ?¨missioners.

The moratorium applies to any applications submitted to the county planning office after Jan. 31. However, the ban includes a provision that allows for “reasonable exceptions” to the moratorium.

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