Friends of Park County’s interactions with the Park County Planning Board
From the outset, Friends of Park County’s sharp focus on preventing rural sprawl and protecting working lands and natural resources has shaped our interactions with the Park County Planning Board. In all of our testimonies before the board, we have made substantive arguments that rural residential sprawl is a potential disaster for the people, property, and resources of the county.
In our testimony on November 18, 2020, which focused on the November 21, 2019 Draft Conflict Mitigation Zoning District Regulations (DCMZDR), we made six key comments and recommendations that align with our focus and goals:
- The highest priority for planning and regulation is the surging demand for residential development and the resulting increase in home prices and rents, which is making housing even more unaffordable for current residents.
- The Planning Board should use the first six months of 2021 to gather facts about projected rural residential development and potential impacts on taxpayers, ranchers and farmers, foresters, tourism, water and wildlife, and increased risks to life and property from floods and fires.
- The importance of that analysis regarding Growth Policy Action 16.3.3: “Develop a future land use map for Park County and adopt it as an amendment to this growth policy.”
- The appreciation of FPC of the limited resources to carry out this work, and an offer to work with other organizations and individuals to supply additional resources.
- A recognition that while the DCMZDR is important, conventional zoning of the type already used in the county would better address proposed high-impact land uses instead of the on-size-fits-all, case-by-case review process that could devolve into a permit approval pathway for inappropriate development.
- The need for the Planning Board and the County Commission, should they choose to proceed with revisions to the DCMZDR, to supply missing criteria, reduce complexity, and establish a time frame for evaluating effectiveness.
In December, 2020, Friends of Park County board member Ken Cochrane testified before the Park County Planning Board, inviting the Board to participate in several potential educational programs and events that will be organized by FPC in 2021. These events, some of which may be cosponsored by Future West, will focus on the potential negative impacts of scattered rural residential development. Cochrane noted that these potential impacts include tax increases, water concerns, risks to lives and property from development in the wildland-urban interface, impacts to fish and wildlife, damage to the tourism industry, and concerns over the condition of working lands. Cochrane expressed appreciation for the time and consideration of the board, and outlined a variety of ways they and their staff could participate in these events.
At the Park County Planning Board’s December 2020 discussion of the DCMZDR, comments were made by county staff and some Board members that concerned FPC, including that they weren’t concerned about “20 acre homesites with a home and some outbuildings,” and that if there was to be any regulation of residential development it should focus on higher-density development.
In response to an invitation by Chair Heidke of the Planning Board—to address bad outcomes that weren’t but should be addressed by the County’s regulation—FPC expressed our concerns over the many potential negative impacts of low density residential development in the county and made several recommendations to the county staff and Board.
If these 20 acre homesites were developed over the next decade, 36 square miles of land would be affected: equivalent to a two mile wide strip along Highway 89S from Livingston to Pray. The loss of land for commercial farming and ranching, the loss of wildlife habitat, the degradation of riparian habitats by the introduction of millions of new gallons of sewage every year, threatened rural drinking water supplies, and rising property values would be a result of this development.
It is clear that lower density residential development in the county should be of more concern than higher density development. The Ebert Apartments in Livingston are a good example of how higher density development could accommodate growth in a more efficient and affordable manner with fewer negative impacts to the community.
Based on this analysis, we recommended the Park County Planning Board staff provide four resources to the Board and public:
- A map of new homes permitted in the last decade along with acreage for each home and relevant information about associated septic and groundwater permits.
- The same information on past and current subdivision applications and the number of undeveloped subdivision lots.
- The first or regular quarterly report on applications and approvals of new residential homes, septic systems, and groundwater permits.
- A memo identifying the County’s 2017 Growth Policy goals, objectives, and actions relevant to rural residential development.
Finally, we urged the Planning Board to pass a motion adding the subject of rural residential development to its scheduled discussions and public testimony sessions at its monthly meetings starting in June.
At our February 18, 2021 testimony before the Park County Planning Board, we again confronted the important issue of the number and impacts of new rural homes. FPC had been unaware of an email sent to the Planning Board before its January meeting that included examples of half and single acre rural residential development; this email had shaped some of the discussion during that meeting: we expressed our unequivocal belief, with evidence, that this zoning would be disastrous for Park County.
Using a hypothetical example involving the mythical Jackalope, we showed that case-by-case reviewing would not account for the whole range of potential development over time, whereas classic zoning is based on a consideration of cumulative impacts. Establishing zoning rules may be more time consuming and difficult to establish at the outset, but would save a lot of time later as the big decisions have already been made.
In this testimony we also expressed the need for the County to begin carrying out the goals, objectives, and action steps promised in the 2017 Growth Policy that could help stop rural residential sprawl: “take an active role in the land use and development process,” “use neighborhood planning and area plans to provide specific policy direction to specific areas that have unique issues,” develop a future land use map for Park County,” “protect air quality, important soils, and water quality during and after development,” and more.