What to do with Teton County's "zombie" lots

Zombie lots are taking over Teton County

DRIGGS, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK) - Teton County, Idaho is being plagued by zombies...lots that is. These are undeveloped subdivisions left abandoned by developers due to the recession. There are around 7,000 of these empty and abandoned lots in Teton County. Some have been sitting there for over a decade. They might finally be getting turned around.

“There are so many subdivisions in the county and so many of them have one or no homes," said Anna Trentadue, program director for Valley Advocates for Responsible Development. "It’s not an easy problem to solve. It’s gonna take a lot of deliberate leadership and decision making.”

The bank now owns many of these after the developers went bankrupt and lost their financing.

“Property values were skyrocketing," said Gary Armstrong, planning administrator for Teton County. "A lot was done on speculation that things would work out really well and then the housing bubble burst everywhere. And it hit Teton County really hard because all of these lots and been created and subdivisions had been identified, but never the next step of improvements necessary to allow people to do that.”

Many of these developments had roads built, signs put in and even utilities. Some even have a few houses.

“In some of these, the roads were put in and they were just gravel roads and then the land was just left as is and so the weeds took over," Trentadue said. "In some cases, the roads are just gone. They’ve been grown over with native grasses and then invasive weeds as well. So to live there and build would require reclaiming the road and actually establishing the road once again.”

Some of these developments were planned for 500 to 600 homes. One development had 75 lots, but only enough water from the communal well for 25 homes. There will have to be many updates before re-developing these today. 

“In some of these cases, particularly along Teton Creek, there were sewer lines put in 10 years ago, but they’ve never been used or flushed or tested," Trentadue said. "And one of the challenges first off is seeing if they’re even useable.”

There were also concerns about the subdivisions interfering with wildlife. Some were designed in areas that could be a potential threat to the environment; however, with the new county regulations, that is changing.

“Where we’re at as a county is that now when someone applies for a subdivision, we require an analysis of the environmental conditions of the wildlife habitats, of the slopes and a lot of environmental constraints that we want to look at before we approve the subdivision," Armstrong said. "In fact that goes in now to all the subdivision designs to avoid those areas where we have high value wildlife habitats.”

Armstrong says that thanks to the high amount of growth in the county today, some developers are coming back. They want to avoid past mistakes and still preserve what makes the area so special.

“Things are picking up where a lot of these subdivisions are being purchased and developers are wanting to improve them," he said. "And what we’re wanting to do is make sure that they’re not administrative barriers in the way so that they can finish what was started.”

Some of these lots could be re-evaluated to allow more space for homes and reduce density; however, the future for each subdivision is different.

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