Joint Town/County Subdivision Workshop
Discusses possible residential development south of Pinedale
by Sue Sommers
October 13, 2006
The County Commissioners’ meeting room in the Courthouse was packed Wednesday night with locals concerned about a rumored development off Fayette-Pole Creek Road.
The workshop had been called so that residents, as well as the Town and County planning and zoning commissions, could have a dialogue with Bernard Andres of Andres Development Corporation. Mr. Andres, a land developer who has completed numerous projects including award-winning Three Creek Ranch in Teton County, is considering purchasing about 198 acres currently owned by PDM Limited Liability Corporation and the Doyle family. Another 150 acres, owned by Cecilia Richardson, may also become part of the project. The area in question lies south of Pinedale, on the east side of US Highway 191, and is just south of Fayette-Pole Creek Road.
In attendance were Paul Rock, Robert Brito, Barbara Boyce, Janet Montgomery and Pam Curry of the Town of Pinedale P&Z. Sublette County P&Z members Judi Adler, Jay Anderson, Suzy Michnevich, Carmel Kail and Albert Sommers were also present. P&Z Chairman Sommers presided over the workshop.
Introductory comments and background information were supplied by Bart Myers, Sublette County Planner, and Laurie Latta, Sublette County Community Development Director. Both emphasized that the meeting was not a hearing (no proposal or plan has yet been submitted by Mr. Andres), but was simply a workshop to gather ideas and input. Mr. Myers made clear the need for high density housing to help ease Pinedale’s housing shortage, and he stressed four factors that must be in place before such a project could proceed: proper zoning, hookup to Town water, hookup to Town sewer, and a plan to address traffic impacts.
The first three issues have already been addressed. Recently, the County and Town collaborated to allow smaller lot sizes (6,000 sq.ft.) within one mile of the Town limits, and to encourage hookup to Town water and sewer in this zone. A traffic impact study would need to be tailored for each project that comes along.
Mrs. Latta said, “We have an opportunity for proactive change here.” She described the dialogue process as “groundbreaking work,” made necessary by the growth-oriented problems that Sublette County is now facing, and by the fact that Mr. Andres is interested in pursuing something that has never been done here before. A businesslike man with a direct way of speaking, Mr. Andres emphasized that he is making time for such meetings because he is serious about the project. “I’m not just thinking about it; I want to get married,” he quipped at one point.
Mr. Andres’ development idea cannot be described as a “plan,” because (as he pointed out numerous times) there is as yet no plan and no proposal. He has not even purchased the land. He can discuss possibilities and options, but before he acts, Andres and his engineers, designers and builders want to know what the community wants, and what the local government will require. From the discussion, however, a list of attributes for the potential neighborhood did emerge.
Possible characteristics of the development
• Minimum lot sizes of 6,000 sq. ft.
• Hookup to Town water and sewer lines
• A mix of different types of homes: single-family, multi-family, townhouses, condos
• Some kind of entry-level or affordable housing with possible deed restrictions
• A total number of units ranging from 200 to 500, to be constructed in phases over 4 years
• Significant open space, parks, recreational opportunities
• A Homeowners’ Association would be established
• Roads that include sidewalks and drainage to Town specifications
• Commercial space to allow for daycare facilities and other amenities, but not enough to compete with businesses in town
Mr. Andres’ team appears to have plenty of experience coping with the practical challenges of building a development. Several of the staff were on hand to talk about past projects and assure the audience that any proposed development would be “beautiful, livable, and affordable” and that long term impacts would be well thought out. Soren Simonsen of the design firm Cooper Roberts Simonsen Associates provided examples from the Salt Lake Valley (the planned communities of Daybreak, Highland and Alpine), a neighborhood outside Idaho Falls, and cluster housing built in Payson, Utah.
The tentative timetable for the development below Pole Creek Road, barring unanticipated problems, would see infrastructure work beginning July 2007, construction to start by the end of 2007, and subsequent buildout over the next three to four years.
Chairman Sommers organized the feedback part of the meeting into two segments. First he solicited comments from each planning & zoning member, then from members of the public. After this, he requested a second round of comments from both groups, in order to give everyone a chance to speak and to address any issues that had emerged in the first comment session.
Water was the prime concern. Despite reassurances from several of Andres’ consultants that any difficulties could be worked out, questions were repeatedly raised over the water and sewer lines. People are uneasy about Pinedale sharing its water and its sewer lagoon with what is perceived as another large community, and they are worried about running the pipes over the distance required.
Ron Brown, Town of Pinedale Public Works Director, stated that the current water and sewer system had been designed to handle a population of 10,000, but that its actual capacity right now was more like 5,000 people. When pressed for an explanation of what it would take to get the system working as designed, Mr. Brown mentioned “innerstructure” problems and ultimately said that he didn’t have an answer.
The Town of Pinedale recently created the position of Town Engineer and hopes to hire someone soon, generating hope that someone might properly address the situation. Mrs. Latta said that the state Water Development Commissioner might be able to shed some light on the water issue as a whole. Mr. Andres’ engineer also said that he would be looking carefully at the feasibility of the water and sewer system.
Further concerns were raised about the boggy nature of most of the land included in the development, and about preserving and maintaining the irrigation ditch that roughly bisects the PDM parcel. Several people voiced skepticism that a development having such significant problems to overcome could ever result in affordable homes.
Other comments touched on the need for a traffic study, for snow removal and road maintenance issues to be addressed, and whether 500 units were really necessary or marketable. Mr. Sommers expressed hope that the development could include some senior citizen housing as well.
Sublette County has never seen a fully planned residential development. No landowner to date has ever sold to or completed a project with a land developer that included housing units in a neighborhood setting. Landowners in the area who wish to sell property have always chosen one of two options: sell the parcel outright or, if it’s big enough, subdivide into lots and sell off piecemeal to those who would build their own homes or speculation homes. Until recently, there have been no developers to whom a landowner could sell to, even if he or she wanted to.
Purchasers of lots are free to build whatever they choose within zoning regulations and the limits of covenants set down by either the subdivision or the county. Except for subdivision plats, there is no overall vision to such growth, and no incentives for cluster housing or preserving open space within subdivisions. The county is liberally sprinkled with subdivisions that become informal settlements with no amenities. In some areas, the density of septic systems has become a concern, although no health hazards have been reported. The increasing number of fences within smaller and smaller spaces has become an issue in wildlife migration corridors.
Another arguably more serious consequence of this piecemeal approach is the tendency for builders in a seller’s market to cater to buyers with the deepest pockets – people who want large homes on large lots. From 1980 to 2004, housing permits for single family homes outstripped by more than thirteen times (1,748 to 132) the number of housing permits for multi-family dwellings. Thus, much of Sublette County has been closing itself off to those on fixed incomes or medium-to-lower incomes. There are plenty of jobs, but few places within 50 miles of Pinedale one can afford to live on the 2006 median salary of $59,400, because the average home price is $249,000 and rents average between $700 and $1100 per month. A planned development within the one-mile limit could incorporate a mosaic of housing types (and possibly controls on speculation) for a more diverse neighborhood that could better represent the small-town lifestyle Pinedale has historically offered. (All figures in this paragraph are from the Sublette County Housing Report of Winter 2006, generated by the Sublette County Socioeconomic Analysis Advisory Committee. For more information, visit www.Sublette-SE.org).
In the past year, at least three residential developers have made presentations to Town of Pinedale and Town of Marbleton officials and members of the public. Inspired by the rising population, growing economy, and shrinking availability of reasonably priced homes, all have testified to the potential of turning a profit in Sublette County by building more affordable housing units. There have been no results as yet. At a Town of Marbleton special meeting on Oct. 5, developer Kevin Keller’s proposal to construct 52 twinhomes died for lack of a second on its third reading. Mrs. Latta feels prospects are dim that Mr. Keller, who by some accounts is hard to pin down, will reach agreement with either the landowners or the Town Council.
At the moment, the only person apparently succeeding at anything like development is Roger Linde of Idaho’s Linde Lodges. Mr. Linde has been purchasing 1/3 acre lots in the brand-new Eiden Subdivision in the southeast corner of Marbleton. On the lot, he builds a foundation, places a manufactured home on that, and sells the whole package for $150,000 to $160,000. Subdivision landscaping covenants require homeowners to plant trees. The huge new Marbleton recreation center will be practically next door. It’s not a planned neighborhood but it may be the closest thing Sublette County will see for awhile.
It is impossible to say if planned residential developments will be one solution to our housing shortage. Clearly, the problem is multilayered and more than one approach will have to be tried. The biggest stumbling block may be the difficulty of initiating anything new. To quote Mr. Andres: "The complexity never comes from the project itself, but from the people."