Smart Growth Stories: Teton County Commissioner Kathy Rinaldi on development strategies for long term prosperity

In the 1990s and 2000s, Teton County, ID was exploding. Its population growth was the 12th fastest in the entire country, and new home growth was the 6th fastest.

“We saw a palatable change in 10 years,” said Teton County Commissioner Kathy Rinaldi, a member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council. “At one point we had 89 subdivisions in the approval process. It was complete insanity. And it was very quick, it was very slipshod. Only half the subdivisions were built out, some were never even started.”

Then, in the late 2000s, the national real estate bust brought development in Teton County to a grinding halt. Almost 7,000 subdivision lots were left vacant, and the construction industry – once the leading job sector in the county – was crippled. Runaway real estate speculation and a lack of development strategy both contributed to the bust.

Residents of Teton County and the Board of County Commissioners recognized that better development strategies could help the county get back on its feet – and stay there for the long term. The County adopted a new comprehensive plan in May 2012 with the intent to “Preserve and protect the area’s ecosystem in order to ensure a healthy environment, community and economy for current and future generations.”

“Our new comprehensive plan is night and day from our last comprehensive plan, which really fostered the development boom,” Rinaldi said. “This comprehensive plan really focuses on what people find more important in our community and not only that but how to enahnce it and how to conserve those parts of our community. We value our open space and agriculture. So how are we going to conserve that? … We are going to be proactive and strategize what our future is and dictate it for ourselves.”

The Teton Valley community is coming together to plan for future growth and is utilizing a more thoughtful approach in its comprehensive planning and land use decisions. Commissioner Rinaldi spoke about some of these issues last week on a webinar organized by Transportation for America. Hear more of what she has to say in the video above.

Local Leaders Council