The Town of Star Valley won’t be making any new neighbors, but it has made a few new friends after it rejected the idea of setting up an offsite water department office in the midst of a sleepy neighborhood.
After neighbors protested setting up a town office at 145 Springdale Drive, the council backed away from the proposal at a Nov. 15 council meeting, saying it would look elsewhere.
A bank offered to give the town the property free after it was abandoned and left to rot.
The site includes a home that neighbors say the bank needs to condemn and a yard full of weeds.
Town Manager and Attorney Tim Grier said he initially thought that the town could house the water department at the location. The idea had two benefits, he said. First, it would offer the town cheap office space, although it would likely have to do major work to the structure, and second, it would guarantee to neighbors that the property would never fall into disrepair again.
However, neighbors objected, saying changing the zoning to commercial would forever open the site up to future use that may not fit the peaceful, quiet area.
“Once it is zoned commercial it opens it up for anybody or any council to use it any way they want and I wouldn’t want property zoned commercial in the middle of a residential area,” said Councilor Gary Coon.
Residents Mark and Tina Terry agreed, saying although they would like to see something positive done with the property, they do not want to see the zoning changed because of unknown future use.
“The council, with the best of intentions, may perform this act and then down the road all of a sudden it is changed, the use is different, so collectively, we are all not in favor of it,” Mark said.
Mark said he has seen homeowners come and go at the property, each doing their own “pirate” remodel and then abandoning the project.
The town, on its part, has tried to clean up the lot for several years, Grier said.
A year ago, the town spent $3,000 to fix up the yard at the neighborhood’s request.
The town put a lien on the lot and the bank reimbursed the town for the cleanup work.
Two weeks ago, the bank offered the town the property free.
“It sounded like the price was right,” Grier said.
The town is currently getting ready to take over the local water company and needs additional office space.
“So using some imagination and thinking we could put the water guy there, we never intended to have it open to the public or have traffic,” Grier said.
Grier took the creative solution to the neighborhood, sending out letters and Joe Janusz, building official, to solicit feedback.
Overwhelmingly, the town heard “no” to the idea.
“Unless all the neighbors unanimously want us to pursue it, I think that we shouldn’t pursue it,” Grier said. “Hopefully, the neighbors are happy with what we are doing. We are respecting their wishes.”
The town agreed it would no longer clean up the yard, regardless of who buys the land.
“Hopefully, it is not going to be unsightly for the neighbors in the future,” Grier said.
Mayor Bill Rappaport said he was against moving the water department into the neighborhood after hearing back from residents.
“I think as long as even one person complained about it we should not move forward with it,” he said.
The rest of the council agreed.
Councilor George Binney said he would like to see the town take over the property and eventually give it to a needy family for cheap.
“I wasn’t really for the idea of putting it in a neighborhood, but I hate to see even a bad house go to waste,” he said. “What if we took that piece of property and sold it to someone for an inexpensive price?”
Councilor Vern Leis said he was leery of the town getting into the real estate business.
“In something like this we need to take half a step back and say, if we become owners and we want to resale, what is our cost exposure and what do we have to do to bring that house up to code?” he said.
Tina Terry suggested if the town could not resale, maybe it could convert it into a park.
Grier said it could cost the town $100,000 at a minimum to demo the building, get rid of it and then build a park — beyond the council’s budget and staff’s time.
“There is a time and place when government intervenes and does not and this is one where we do not,” he said. “There are many legal questions, even though suggestions are imaginative and good, there are many concerns that I would have if we were to take the property and make it into a park.”
The council unanimously voted against taking the property.