EXIT PLAN: Jeff Daugherty looks back on 7 years in hot seat

By on December 10, 2013
Jeff Daughtery
Jeff Daughtery

Jeff Daughtery

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – Planet Jackson Hole knew Jeff Daugherty was leaving his post as county planning director long before he announced his decision to take a job heading up First American Title in Jackson. We promised not to spill the beans as long as he sat down with us later for a candid exit interview. Daugherty’s parting shots were worth waiting for.

Planet Jackson Hole: What are some of the accomplishments you are proudest of?
Jeff Daugherty: A cultural change within the department was one of the first tasks set before me. It is really common across planning departments throughout the United States where the planning staff sort of gets a bad rep. When you think about it, we are the police officers of the building industry. Like any police officer, there are a lot of ways to do that job. You can be the cop that goes, “Well, boy, where you think yer goin’ so fast?” Or you can say, “Hey, to keep you safe we need you to respect the speed limit and so I am going to warn you but if I run into you again I’m going to have to write you up.”

PJH: So the regime before you was heavy handed?
JD: Let’s say this: the culture was very black and white. And land use is not very black and white. Maybe if you are in a jurisdiction like Salt Lake City where you are dealing with cookie cutter lots it can get very black and white. Here, where we are doing greenfield development and we are trying to accomplish certain objectives, we also need to balance that with an understanding that we live in the state of Wyoming and the Supreme Court has made it abundantly clear that individuals have property rights. Whether it was true or not, the perception when I got here was that we were a department of “no.”

Can I do this? No. Can I do that? No.

PJH: Has this created the wiggle room developers seem to find so often?
JD: The wiggle room has always been there. The problem is, always saying no is really safe. When your staff isn’t confident that they’ll be supported, no is a safe place to go. And when they grow in their confidence we are able to say, “Maybe you can do that if …”

In every jurisdiction developers can always exploit the gray areas. But the easy lots in Teton County are done. We’re the night crew. We don’t have the benefit of having every decision so clear-cut anymore.

PJH: What else?
JD: We’ve digitized almost all of our files. You can look at almost anything you want from the comfort of your home, which I think really helps with the process and transparency for the public. We also have online plan submittal, which saves applicants a lot of money.

We’ve had great success in energy compliance. In our energy codes we’ve set up a system where you have a certain energy envelope. If you exceed that you have to mitigate your impact.

The other cool stuff that we’ve done is we’ve created a NRTAB (Natural Resources Technical Advisory Board). It allows us to understand how wildlife are using an area. Basically, the policy guys and the scientists weren’t getting along. This is an effort that came out of the comprehensive plan to try and start gathering all this amazing science we have. There is a ton of data out there but nobody translating it into something planners and policymakers can use.

Finally, I have to say the professionalism of our planning commission right now is pretty amazing. They treat people respectfully who come in. We’ve got some great members on there right now that represent different philosophies and different schools of thought, which I think is important. The worst thing you can have is a homogeneous planning commission because our community is not homogenous. I don’t want to be disrespectful of planning commissioners that have come before but I do remember sitting in some meetings watching planning commissioners yell at applicants, yell at applicants’ kids. I think the planning commission is remarkable right now.

PJH: That’s a lot in seven years. You came on board in March 2007. What was going on then? Can you remember your first days on the job?
JD: I’ll tell you a funny story. When I was going through my interview all I heard about was affordable housing: “We don’t have any affordable housing. We’re down 400 units. We need 400 units.”

So I’m so new I don’t even know where the bathrooms are and in walks Mike Gierau with Teton Meadows and its 500 units. He says, “I’ll make like 350 or 400 deed restricted.” So I called the commissioners and thought, “You know, you don’t have to bonus me on my first week but I think I just fixed the affordable housing problem. What do you want me to do next week?” And there was this remarkable awkward silence on their end of the phone. Then came the moratorium.

Thankfully, it did not go through because right now you’d have a lot of open pits and unbuilt houses in various stages of decay. I think we have a better plan now. You learn context after you’ve been here a while.

PJH: This all sounds like enough to hang your hat on.
JD: Also, we rewrote the Wilson commercial zoning regulations. That was cool. And I got the Targhee master plan done. That started before me but I was able to put a bow on that.

PJH: Where is Geordie [Gillett] with that now?
JD: Mothballed. Actually, he’s trying to do RPTs out there instead because he doesn’t want to trigger his master plan by actually building resort-type stuff. So he is wanting to amend his master plan because I told him, “Geordie, RPTs are only allowed in camping grounds. You don’t have a campground up there.” He said, “Well, camping is permitted.” I told him he probably needs a stronger tangent than that.

PJH: So, where is the county headed? What’s the new guy or gal in for?
JD: Well, we are understaffed. We’ve got Teton Village that just dropped off five applications and they’ve got eight more coming in January. Most of the builders and architects out there are saying my pipeline’s filling up. I think we are going to see a pretty meaningful increase in the number of applications and building permits, especially in places like Alta, where it’s more affordable. There’s a lot of building permits going in over there.

PJH: Are we getting to a place where the Town and County are thinking alike, especially concerning growth?
JD: Consolidation is something [town planning director] Tyler [Sinclair] and I, and the Town and County, have been thinking about since the day I walked in the door. It’s not a new idea. We’ve been talking about it a long time. I think it’s something the mayor has been driving for a long time.

Hot button planning issues in the headlines

PJH: Let’s run down a list of high-profile developments that have made headlines starting with Snake River Sporting Club. How did we get in that mess and how are we getting out?
JD: It started under some other developers. It was supposed to be a resort. It was approved as a resort. Since that time we’ve taken the resort zoning off the books. Interestingly, resorts are supposed to have a public benefit and when I came here, at least in my opinion, I didn’t see a strong public benefit associated with it. For what it’s worth the electeds at the time felt there was a strong enough argument for public benefit.

The problem was I think they approved a business model that probably wasn’t going to let them be successful in the long run. Then the economy crashes and the big part of the headache was we held all these bonds. Then the roads began to fail and the water system began to fail, and the county had to close on these bonds and step in. We had to repair those roads, shore up the slopes, literally jack up the water tank and fill in underneath it. We had to go in and act as the developer, which isn’t our role and isn’t something we are good at.

You also had [Dick] Edgcomb trying to develop a piece to the south that straddles Lincoln County. That was western for a while but that was bought by a conservation buyer so now that’s protected.

I think it’s going in an absolutely favorable direction now. It’s owned by two different developers after it went through the bankruptcy and at some point those groups are going to need to work together because one can’t succeed effectively without the other. I think they both know that. I think there is an appetite to do so. I think you will see a redesign of the project and I think the community will probably see a restoration of the hot springs pool that will be available to the public. People have fond memories of learning to swim in that pool and they seem very amenable to restoring some type of public pool out there.

PJH: Fintan Ryan and the old Puzzleface Ranch. Wow, where to start?
JD: I need to be careful with this one because it’s currently in litigation.
First off, the berms took up a huge part of the ag meadow, but that part of the development is consistent with the LDRs. He put in some ponds, which, again, are consistent with the book. I know it upset a lot of people but that’s not where the county feels he ran afoul with the law.

PJH: It comes down to the definition of a basement now, right?
JD: We felt he had multiple options. He owns multiple lots out there, almost 200 acres, and we said, “You guys can sink that basement down in the ground.” We call that a bathtub.

He said, “I don’t want to do a bathtub.”

Then we said, “Build on one of these other lots and you can still see the Grand.”

“I want it here,” he said.

Then we said, “Reduce the size of your home so that you’ve got 4,000 and 4,000 [square feet on each level] and then you can do what you want to do.”

“No, I want 16,000,” or 20,000 or whatever he’s at right now.

Finally we said, “We don’t know what to tell you because basically what you are telling us is you are not negotiating anything. You want what you want and nothing else.

The courts are going to have to decide at this point. Right now it is down to Judge [Tim] Day but no matter what the decision is it won’t stop there. This is something that will be heard by the State Supreme Court. This is an important case because this is, in many ways, almost the identical question Teton County identified in the Crow case. (Teton County v. Crow, 2003). It affirmed our 8,000 to 10,000 floor area ratio, which before that was untested. In this case, instead of talking about whether it’s OK to build in the upper reaches of your home, this is going to ask the court to rule whether it’s OK to add extra square footage in the bottom part of your home.

PJH: Seherr-Thoss gravel pit. How’d we get here?
JD: We got here because cans got kicked down the road for 30 years. We got a complaint concerning his operation. One of my functions is to determine nonconforming uses and the way I do that is by using what we call a preponderance standard which is a civil standard different from a criminal standard where you judge by beyond a reasonable doubt. Hank [Phibbs] defines it as “50 percent plus a feather.” So whatever amount of information it takes to tilt the scale slightly in favor or against something is what we require.

I met with Roger and he said, “I’ve got all these nonconforming rights out here.”

We said, “Great, you just need to prove that.”

“Well, I threw away all my records,” he said.

We said, “OK, we’ll work with you. We’ll accept affidavits. We’ll accept photographs. We’ll accept taxes.”

“I threw those away.”

So I told Roger I just can’t tip that scale. I’m going to have to deny you all these uses you want to do out here and get you to stop operation and start reclamation. They appealed and during the appeal they bring in exactly what I had been asking them for which was affidavits, photographs, tax records. [That won him] the limited operation he has now. The commissioners affirmed me but made some changes based on the nonconformities that the state hearing officer approved. In their order they said, “You can only have 17,000 tons, these are your hours of operation, this is the amount of the footprint.” He appealed that and it’s headed to the Supreme Court this week.

He wants to do more gravel. The last few years he has been doing 40,000 to 70,000 tons a year and that’s a lot more than the 17,000. He’s appealing to try to get more and to really get the county out of the regulation so just DEQ manages it. He wants to move his operation around potentially the entire 270 acres he has down there. He believes Evans is going out of business and he’ll be the only guy in gravel and he says if you don’t let him do this then we are going to have to ship it in from Alpine and Teton, Idaho, and then you’ll have these enormous impacts like broken windshields.

PJH: Jamie Mackay and his glamping drama.
JD: On a personal level, I really like Jamie a lot. He’s really an enjoyable person and I’ll see him at the chariot races or whatever and I really quite like him. But sometimes he makes choices that really complicate things for him.

I understand where Jamie’s coming from. He just wants to make that thing pencil out there and it’s hard to do with tents and Winnebagos. So he’s trying to find a way to glitz it up a bit. I think maybe his strategy was to act first and seek forgiveness later. You look at Bud Chatham who actually predated Jamie in the RPT effort and Bud didn’t have near the trouble that Jamie did.

Do I think that Jamie substantially complicated his life and made a somewhat straightforward process that would have gotten him to a conclusion he might have found acceptable? Yeah, he did. He complicated that. I think now he’s pretty close to where he wants to be, though.

PJH: What about the Jackson Land & Cattle deal? Richard Fields seems to be done playing cowboy and washed his hands of Jackson. He’s left a mess on Spring Gulch. Is that the last expansive tract left in the valley?
JD: No, you’ve got several big ones. The Pinto Ranch in the north end of the valley. You’ve got the Wilsons with a couple thousand acres over in Alta.

PJH: Alta is in Idaho. What about in this valley?
JD: Hey, hey, I’ll have you know as a denizen of Alta it is a matter of great pride that we look down on the rest of the county. We’re like a Territory of Teton County.

Right now the Spring Gulch area is really rural. It’s going to be one per 35 [acres]. Depending on what tools come out of the Comprehensive Plan it’s going to be an appropriate area for density transfers. But most of that’s been sold off. The Meads got back a little bit of the Jackson Land and Cattle thing. You’ve got big swaths that are under conservation easement, 500 acres or so.

Teton Village

Teton Village

PJH: Teton Village is growing like wildfire. Are they going to be their own town soon?
JD: It’s completely their prerogative as to whether they ultimately incorporate. I think right now they are happy in the county. It’s a good deal for them and it’s a good deal for Teton County to have them as part of the county. I haven’t heard any serious conversation about them incorporating but they are a complete neighborhood. They’re going to be key in helping us achieve that 60-40 split.

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