Large-acre developers sidestep new county rules
October 13, 2022
A matter of weeks after approving new regulations that give the county a say in the large development projects going on around the county, the Crook County Commissioners heard last week that developers have already found a way to circumvent them.
According to Planning Administrator Tim Lyons, the developer on at least one project has assigned each plot on a large acreage to individual LLCs, ensuring that it does not qualify as a subdivision.
The conversation cropped up when local landowner Jim Geis approached the commission to request assistance. An area of land 1200 acres in size next to his own property has been sold to developers and divided into lots, he said, and he’s expecting the individual landowners to begin constructing homes there as soon as next year.
The county road that leads to Geis’s property is designated as unmaintained, he said, so he has been maintaining it himself for many years at his own expense.
This was not a huge problem when there were not many people using it – and when he was leasing the 1200 acres himself, for the purpose of grazing – but Geis told the commission he does not want to be responsible for maintaining a road being used by numerous residents.
“I think it’s time the county takes on maintenance of the road,” he said.
Geis also shared his opinion that the county should insist that the developer of this new subdivision be responsible for improving the road to a standard that would make it usable by landowners of the new subdivision.
“Why should it fall back on taxpayers?” he asked.
Commissioner Kelly Dennis confirmed that this was the very goal behind the new large acre subdivision rules: to ensure that new development did not burden current taxpayers.
However, said Jeanne Whalen, the developers have already found a way to continue with their projects without being subject to the rules. As explained by Tim Lyons, Planning Administrator, the developers are filing deeds for the individual lots to assign each one to an individual limited liability company (LLC), which means they already show as sold and the project does not qualify as a subdivision.
Consequently, the lots on the 1200 acre parcel do not fall under the purview of the large acre subdivision rules, which means the county cannot make any recommendations on such things as road upgrades and access for emergency services.
“It’s too bad because we had full intentions with these new regulations…we didn’t know we were going to get circumvented,” said Whalen.
The commission described the situation as “exasperating”.
“That’s what we get for being a nice place to live,” commented Commissioner Fred Devish.
Geis agreed, stating that people want to move here because it’s “the last of the wide open spaces”. He was saddened to hear about the situation, largely because he lives at the end of the road in question and will have no choice but to continue maintaining it if he wants to leave his own property.
“We’re the ones that travel the whole of the road,” he said.
One of the reasons for the commission’s decision to intervene in the new developments was the potential added cost to the county. The new landowners are likely to request road maintenance on Geis Road, said Whalen, and the commission will have little choice but to say no.
Road & Bridge Foreman Morgan Ellsbury spoke to the county’s struggle when it comes to the expense of county roads and pointed out that the commission has turned down many requests to designate new miles of road as maintained.
“We already maintain more than we can afford,” said Dennis, pointing out that Crook County has more maintained miles than Campbell County despite the difference in population.
The commission suggested that Geis’s best form of recourse may be to contact the new landowners and suggest forming an improvement and service district that would take responsibility for maintenance of the road.