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The Resort Town Curse
By Daryl L. Hunter
(2002 however added to over time)

Gardiner Montana

In 1962 as a child my family drove through Carmel California, and after my exclaimation how beautiful the place was, my mother explained to me that it was against the law to cut down a tree in the town, and that is why Carmel was so beautiful. I wondered why every town didn't do that.

Autumn color at Palisades Reservior beneath the Snake River Range in Swan Valley Idaho. Click on image to see larger

A  few years later my hometown, San Luis Obispo California, did enact all kinds of restricted zoning like Carmel's as a part of an urban renewal plan. All well and good; however, now I couldn't afford to move back to my home town if I wanted to. This town is now populated with what they call "Grey Gold", rich retired people, from elsewhere, that ran up the property values so high that the native born can no longer afford to live there.

I have lived in many resort towns since, and I have noticed a trend. I am attracted to them when they are still little, quaint and undiscovered, but it usually isn't long before word spreads about the next great place.

The newcomers arrive and they marvel at the scenery, but yearn for a classier looking town. Then comes the planning and zoning like they had back home. Everyone's property value goes up and everyone is happy.

The old city grill is replaced with a Starbucks; Bagel shops full of Patagonia aficionados replace the corner drug soda fountain. The town no longer looks like an old farm town; it starts looking like cool recreation town that will soon be on the cover of Outside Magazine. Planning and zoning has made a very attractive place for people who never lived there and the children of the locals can no longer afford to stay. Lycra clad bicyclers start outnumbering cowboys and farmers and another farm town bites the dust.

Tourists fall in love with the place then stay.

The lycra clads and Patagonia aficionados don't want the born and bred to earn a living in traditional and historic ways. They don’t want them to take any timber off the mountain, don't want them to go there on a snowmobile or 4-wheelers and don't want them to put out the wildfire; yet too often these same born and bred zone a valley that attract folks like this who will want to change their way of life.

In 1986 I drove through Swan Valley Idaho during my move to Jackson Hole. I marveled at the beauty, but wondered why everyone left it so run down. I have come to realize after watching so many places get discovered by the rich, why it may be better to leave a place a little run down, or maybe do some zoning that includes the working man, and maybe the working man's grandchildren. I have worked in Jackson Hole Wyoming for thirty-one years(2018) and I have seen many of Jackson's own born an bred have to leave to make room for the well heeled that financially displaced them.

It's nice to see your property escalate in value; however, if you don't plan on selling out, you are just building yourself a bigger property tax bill that you may not be able to afford after you retire. I imagine that when I can't work anymore my high property taxes will make me sell out for a nice profit, but then I will have to move to Mud Lake Idaho where the property and property taxes will still be affordable as no one wants to live there.

A farmer tilling his field south of Ashton Idaho
click on image to see larger

The afore mentioned Swan Valley, my home, is entering this mentality. They have outlawed city lots, mobile homes not on foundations, mandated snow-loads for roofs that eliminate the ability to buy economical single wide or used mobile homes, mandated engineered storage sheds so lawn mowers will be safe. It all seems like such a good idea while ignoring the “Law of Unintended Consequences.” 

One day I met a lady from Paso Robles California who had moved to Ashton Idaho and opened a busines;, of course she wanted her business to grow.  She got onto the city council so she could effect change.   You see, Ashton although in the beautiful Greater Yellowstone region remains a run down looking farm town that looks as though it could just as easily be in the middle of Kansas.  Her proposals of urban renewal were met with aghast and disapproval from the old timers on the council proclaiming: “If we do that outsiders will invade Ashton like they did Driggs and Jackson!”  I had to chuckle silently when she told me this anecdote.


\Com`pre*hen"sive\, a. [Cf. F. compr['e]hensif.] 1. Including much; comprising many things; having a wide scope or a full view. A very comprehensive definition. --Bentley. Large and comprehensive idea. --Channing. 2. Having the power to comprehend or understand many things. ``His comprehensive head.'' --Pope. 3. (Zo["o]l.) Possessing peculiarities that are characteristic of several diverse groups.

Comprehensive Planning

It dumbfounds me that comprehensive planning in resort areas rarely factors the planner's progeny or retiree's property tax liability.  Zoning while forgetting about progeny and retirees is the antithesis of community, not the foundation of it.


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