Around the County

Wanted: A new county land use plan

By Pat Stuart
Posted 9/29/20

How many of you would agree with the following statement? “Park County should have uncontrolled suburban spread.”

Very few, I suspect. Even fewer would say we want to see our major …

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Around the County

Wanted: A new county land use plan

Posted

How many of you would agree with the following statement? “Park County should have uncontrolled suburban spread.”

Very few, I suspect. Even fewer would say we want to see our major corridors sprouting wall-to-wall houses.

And, almost no one would want the change that goes with urbanization. If we did, we’d move to Fort Collins or Bozeman or the Bitterroot or some other once fabulous rural mountain area that is now covered in ever and ever smaller lots boasting ever and ever growing populations, complete with traffic jams and a laundry list of urban woes.

As we’ve seen elsewhere, sprawling growth requires more infrastructure. It comes with the managers and their employees, the regulators and their regulations, more police, an expanded justice system, bigger schools, and, and, and. Then comes the challenge of finding money to pay for it all.

Here’s the equation: Development + infrastructure + services = bigger government, which then equals, well, higher taxes and reduced freedoms.

Want to do some target practice behind the house? I don’t think so. You’ll be violating noise ordinances, among other things.

Feel like letting the dog run? Someone will complain and you’ll be dealing with an animal control officer.

That’s for openers. And, it’s happening now.

Maybe you haven’t noticed houses springing up just about everywhere with subdivision requests pouring into the commissioners for approval, which they get thanks to an old and creaky and largely ignored land use plan. This past year Park County developers submitted 22 subdivision requests compared to 11 in the previous year and eight the year before that. At this pace and in our current year, we’ll see 44. In the next, 88, etc. Or it might jump exponentially. There’s really nothing to stop it.

But, wait. That’s not all.

As we’ve seen elsewhere, the inevitable increase in taxes may just price you out of your home and the county. And, if you don’t believe me, try running the figures on whether or not you could afford to live in Jackson as opposed to whether or not you could have lived there 30 years ago. Two members of my family did. But they’ve long since left even though they loved it and wanted to stay; priced out.

The urbanization process in Teton County took 30 years to reach its current status and that was with rigorous control by the county. We have more private land but no control — plus our development is being accelerated by low interest rates and COVID-19.

I could expand on the woes of uncontrolled and unlimited urban/suburban sprawl, but you know what I mean. We live here not just because it’s affordable but because we love what we have. Here, we live the American dream of great vistas, little traffic, easy access to the mountains, the lowest of low taxes, good schools with great teacher to student ratios … I could go on.

No one really wants to see any of this or our other advantages change.

On the other hand, right now, we are all aware that change will come in some form or another. It always does. The big question is how.

At the moment, it’s the wild West at the county courthouse. Get your subdivision request in. Build and sell. Bank your bucks, then go back for more, and more, and more — which is not that bad. We want our carpenters and plumbers, our electricians and roofers to have jobs.

We can’t stop change, but we can manage it. We can learn from what’s happened in other communities. We can channel our growth. We can sculpt how and where the contractors and builders build and plan to accommodate the new homeowners and assimilate them at costs they absorb.

A new county land use plan is the key here. No one disputes the need for one that will guide development and ensure protection of our way of life. It’s been talked about since 2013 and postponed ever since as too expensive or too controversial or too something else.

We were at least supposed to start the process this year. In fact, the commissioners set aside $100,000 for just that purpose, but they put it off again. They had their reasons, but need was not one of them.

Will they postpone it again in 2021? Not if we don’t want them to.

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