Victor’s Changing Landscape

By Jessica L. Flammang
When Abbi Sarthou relocated to Victor from Park City, Utah, five years ago, she was moving to a new place. Her husband, Pierre—a native of nearby Wilson, Wyoming—was returning to the Tetons. His family has lived in the region for half a century. But the bi-state community he returned home to was different than the one he left in the late nineties.
“We moved [back] the weekend the stoplight was installed in Victor,” Sarthou says.
Since their move back in 2014, a new health clinic and pharmacy, the fifty-six-room Cobblestone Hotel on the corner of Main Street and Dogwood, and multiple housing projects have made their mark on the quaint Idaho town.
Not too long ago, Victor was a quiet crossroads where Idaho State Highway 33, leading north toward Driggs and southeast to Jackson Hole, meets State Highway 31, which heads west over Pine Creek Pass to Swan Valley, Idaho. Now in the throes of another swell in development, citizens hope the town can find balance, learning from past mistakes.
“I hope the city planners and the county [work to] ensure that everything stays true to our small-town feel,” Sarthou says, “and create thoughtful, community-oriented design.” 

THE NUMBERS 

Although development has picked up, the growth has not yet matched the building boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s, a boom that skidded to a halt following the national recession of 2008.
Growth is not rapidly increasing, says Victor Planning and Zoning Director Ryan Krueger. “From what I know from the previous ‘boom’ cycle for Teton County as a whole, it appears to be more in line with steady growth trends, although it seems Victor is seeing increased activity in the issuance of permits,” he says.

In 2014, seventeen building permits were issued in Victor. In 2017, that number rose to seventy-eight. By comparison, in 2007, just before the recession occurred, 113 building permits were issued. The number of permits issued in 2017 were 70 percent of the total number issued in 2007, according to Victor Mayor Jeff Potter, a Jackson Hole native.

The city’s 2018 End of Year Report stated that “the pace of submitted building permits has been sharply increasing on a percentage basis since 2014.” At the close of its fiscal year on September 30, fifty-two building permits had been received. And not all of the building permits are residential. The new Victor Elementary School broke ground in October 2018. Located just north of Sherman Park at the corner of Elm and Baseline Road, it is slated to open in 2020.

“The reality of the situation falls somewhere between boom and a steady increase,” Krueger says.

To address impending advancements, the city adopted a model code for zoning and building ordinances as required by state law, according to Mayor Potter. He acknowledges, however, that it still needs fine-tuning.
“We anticipated that as we implement new standards, there will be issues,” Mayor Potter says. Lighting has been one of them. Public engagement, another.

The city added Victor
Drug pharmacy and clinic and
the new Cobblestone Hotel to
Main Street last summer.

GROWING PAINS

With growth comes growing pains, no doubt.
“We have seen more [commercial] development this season with the pharmacy, the new school, and the clinic,” Councilman Will Frohlich says. “This creates public issues like lighting ordinances and signage.”

As Victor stretches its britches, light pollution is a contentious issue. For Shannon Clay, it has been an ongoing battle since renting a house on Dogwood Street in October 2017.

“When I moved in, there was nothing there,” Clay says. “Now, there are two large apartment buildings with ten units each, and five new structures on the other side.”

Since relocating to Teton Valley from Olympia, Washington, in 2011—armed with a background in sustainable development—Clay has played an active citizen’s role in helping craft zoning and code regulations, attending housing and urban development meetings, and working alongside the city to try to sustain the valley’s rural identity.

“It is nice to hear from citizens when issues come up like downtown lighting associated with new development,” City Administrator Olivia Goodale says. “It gives us a chance to review, to check in with our code, and to ask ourselves, ‘Is our code meeting the intent of what our community wants to see?’”

Mayor Potter has directed staff to look into the lighting code, Goodale says, thanks to input from residents like Clay.

“I think it’s important to have everyone involved in the type of community we are trying to build,” Clay says. “We have a good community and people who care. I want Victor to maintain its character.”

A TOWN TO COME
HOME TO

Currently, 72 percent of households in Victor have one or more residents who commute over Teton Pass daily, according to The Western Greater Yellowstone Region Housing Needs Assessment of November 2014. Sponsored by the Western Greater Yellowstone Consortium, the same study found that “Teton County, Idaho, has the highest percentage of households with employees who leave the county for work and the lowest percentage of households with a locally employed member.”

Victor is a bedroom community not only for those who choose to live in Idaho, but also for Jackson laborers unable to find housing on the Wyoming side of the state line. Hotel Terra, located in Teton Village, Wyoming, recently built employee housing for its employees on the Idaho side of Teton Pass, further blurring the lines.

Fortunately, members of Victor City Council are working to maintain the community feel. “I still want Victor to be its own brand, its own town,” says Councilman Frohlich, “not just a bedroom community.”

But the issue is complicated by changing real estate and rental markets, the availability of more jobs with higher wages across state lines, and a variety of other factors. According to the Teton County, Idaho, Affordable Housing Strategic Plan, the median home sales price and rental rate have increased and outpaced gains in wages, despite an increase in new housing construction between 2014 and 2018, creating a conundrum for many.

An increasing supply of short-term rentals have also stifled the long-term rental market due to sites like VRBO and Airbnb, a problem seeming to plague tourism-driven mountain towns throughout the West. As of July 2018, according to the affordable housing plan, “there were 370 ‘entire home’ short-term (less than 30 days) rentals listed on the Airbnb website in the county, which represents 6.4 percent of the county’s housing units.”

Clay currently commutes to earn an income. The average starting wage typically listed for open jobs in Jackson is $15 to $20 an hour, versus $11 to $15 in Teton Valley. The wage disparity can translate to an impact on community cohesion. “I feel more disconnected from the [Teton Valley] community now that I commute,” Clay says.

Still, the landscape speaks to her, and she isn’t willing to give that up just yet.

A REVAMP OF THE PLAN

As Victor’s physical character changes, focus on revamping the City of Victor Comprehensive Plan moves to the top of the list for many, who hope that landscaping, infrastructure, and building development stay consistent with its original vision. City staff agrees. A significant update to the comprehensive plan is already underway, the success of which relies heavily on community outreach by the city and input from residents.

The comprehensive plan update—which the Victor City Council identified as its top priority at its annual retreat in February—will give the public opportunity to voice their ideas and concerns.

As of this spring, the city was in the process of preparing a request for proposal for a consultant on the project. The bulk of the update will fall within 2020. According to Goodale, the ultimate goal is a vibrant main street and a more localized economy.

Council and city staff are hoping for a high level of involvement for the plan.

“Residents need to remain vigilant and involved,” Mayor Potter says.

Councilman Frohlich agrees. “We would love more public opinion in our meetings on the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month, and on social media,” he says. “Transparency is huge. More public opinion at charrettes and meetings gives us more to go on.”

Goodale says the city staff will look to the public engagement best practices formed in Envision Victor and implement them throughout the process.

In 2009, the City of Victor partnered with Valley Advocates for Responsible Development [VARD] and Teton Valley Trails and Pathways to attempt to define the community’s core values and sense of place under the umbrella of the Envision Victor project. The Orton Family Foundation funded the two-year project with a $100,000 grant to go toward defining what makes up the “heart and soul” of the community, according to VARD.

Envision Victor was a city project that, although different than the comprehensive plan, also helped the city identify the values of the community. Maybe most notably, Envision Victor identified public engagement and transparency strategies that Goodale says will carry over into the new comprehensive plan updates.

Shawn Hill, executive director of VARD, remains a resounding voice in the discussion. Founded in 2001, VARD is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit citizens’ group “working toward fair and predictable development that will benefit the entire community and future generations,” according to its mission statement.

In the fall of 2018, VARD held a community event outlining recent developments in the city called, ‘What’s our vector, Victor?’

“We wanted to increase public awareness that Victor is receiving more development applications, but there doesn’t seem to be a clear direction for how the community wants to grow,” Hill says. “We need to return to the original tenets of Envision Victor.”

Potter, however, feels the tools are in place, saying, “Development that isn’t consistent with community vision” will be denied.

Since the completion of the Meadows housing project, the public has “awoken,” Hill says.

The small-unit Meadows project consists of two parcels west of the Victor downtown core comprising fourteen housing units, Krueger says. “It has generated a significant amount of community feedback since its inception; comments that encouraged the City of Victor to take a more proactive approach in determining appropriate design characteristics for our travel corridors and community as a whole.”

In 2018, the city adopted design review guidelines that outlined specific zones and building types within the city, Krueger explains.

“The Design Review Advisory Committee continues to hone those standards to ensure future development is established in accordance with the community’s preferred aesthetic mindset,” he says.

But Hill remains focused on the values put forth in Envision Victor’s original plan.

“If we can set the tone for the right kind of development in Victor, we will establish its character for generations to come,” he says.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

Ryan Krueger, who has lived in the Greater Yellowstone region for more than a decade, began his job as Victor’s new planning and zoning director in December of 2018. His first priority: an update of the land use code, which is different from the comprehensive plan. “The most recent iteration needed revision,” he says. “The code needs to ultimately work for you and not against you.”

Krueger is diligently following up on residents’ concerns. “The city is trying to be a partner [with] residents in finding solutions that will offer peace of mind,” he says. So far, he has been able to resolve several outstanding issues.

An outdoor enthusiast, Krueger is passionate about the land in and around Teton Valley. But he can’t stave off legitimate development. “Victor is on the map,” he says. “Developers are coming in from outside the region eager to build in Victor.”

What Krueger can do is serve as a balancing force. “I strive to bring the community into the fold for the challenges we will see moving forward,” he says.

A commitment to regional identity is paramount, along with the willingness of both residents and city officials to adjust to growth. For Goodale, this means continually looking to the comprehensive plan and land use code and getting community input.

“Victor has undergone periods of growth in the past and we’ll experience periods of growth in the future,” she says. “Through it all, Victor has been able to maintain its sense of place.”

But change is inevitable.

“You have to be able to adapt to change in this day and age,” Councilman Frohlich says. “The city has done a good job in trying to align itself to that change during the boom.”

Teton County Clerk Kim Keeley, who has co-owned the Victor Emporium on Main Street for twenty years, agrees, saying there have been many positive changes over the last two decades. “I give the Victor City Council a lot of credit,” she says. “Not all decisions have worked out, but they have been forward-thinking and in good faith.”

A SMALL TOWN AT HEART

Despite some development debacles, Sarthou and many other community members know that Victor is special and will ultimately survive its growing pains.

“Most of my husband’s high school friends have returned to the region, many of whom chose to live in Teton Valley,” she says. “They are all still connected. To me, this shows that it is a great place to stay and create your life.”

Councilman Frohlich holds a similar view.

“Victor still has a small-town feel. Regardless of development, this likely won’t change in my lifetime,” he says.