Hidden Cost: dense neighborhood headed for Jackson

Hidden Hollow moved forward this week when the town council approved the sketch plan for the 168-unit residential neighborhood on Monday.

Background

Hidden Hollow is a proposed development for the former Forest Service property on North Cache. The Hansen brothers from Idaho Falls—who also own Bischoff in Jackson—purchased the 10-acre parcel last year. The property was also rezoned in 2015 to Urban Residential.

The proposed project consists of 13 detached single family units, 20 attached single family units (townhomes) and 135 attached single family units (condominiums) or apartments within 5 buildings.

The Good

The Hansen Brothers seem truly committed to developing something that they feel is sorely needed in this community: housing. They plan to take advantage incentives provided through the revamped PUD tool that will put 45 deed-restricted (in addition to the 27 employee housing units they will build) in exchange for the right to build up to 48 feet high. This project will house a good many people that are currently unable to find anything in the valley. A good mix of rental and ownership units will provide some relief for the housing crunch and do so on the back of the private sector.

The Bad

This is a massive neighborhood; the biggest since Cottonwood. At 168 units, it is large and dense. Town staff have worked the spreadsheet out at 16.8 units per acre (figuring the property at 10 acres) but the fact is less than 70% of that land is buildable. The rest is wetlands abutting the Elk Refuge. So the development is very dense.

Traffic will be a major issue. Development reps estimate an additional 1,200-plus trips will be generated in and out of their every day. That number seems low. Mercill will be slammed.

Environmental impacts to the sensitive wetlands area will also be significant.

Vigilant Monitoring

Save Historic Jackson Hole will be watching this project closely. The impacts are numerous. Many are clamoring for housing it’s true. This development will house many and do it without government funding. But at what cost to our quality of life? The town, the valley, is near capacity if not at capacity. Shoving an additional 588 people (168 units x 3.5 average occupants) into downtown Jackson is a scary proposition. Will our infrastructure be able to handle it? Sewer/water, roads, calls for service to first responders?

What are your thoughts? Do we need housing that bad? Can we fix a problem without creating two or three more? We can’t turn back time and return to a quieter, simpler Jackson we all remember, but do we need to rush headlong into a future Jackson that looks like Idaho Falls?

 

 

Nothing but the truth, please

Did you catch Louis Wang’s “Guest Shot” in this week’s News&Guide?

The informative article contains some important facts and data points often overlooked or simply misrepresented. Again, there is no denying Jackson Hole has an imbalance in its supply of affordable housing versus commercial development. Study after study has shown that to be a stark reality. What is most often debated is how to go about addressing the disparity.

Save Historic Jackson Hole maintains that many politicians—with the aid of biased reporting—believe the solution lies in taxing the public to pay for problems created by employers who don’t pay an adequate living wage, and greedy developers who develop commercial properties that exacerbate our housing and traffic problems without being held financially accountable to adequately mitigate their impacts.

Following is Wang’s opinion piece in the November 23 issue of the News&Guide.

O P I N I O N   

GUEST SHOT

Balanced reporting is always required

Balanced reporting of the news can be challenging. It’s easy to attend public meetings and repeat what the politicians said, but real news coverage cannot end there. Elected officials have their viewpoint, why this or that happened, but it’s only one viewpoint. And it may not be accurate.

The press is obligated to present both sides of an issue, and sometimes that doesn’t happen.

The lead article in last week’s News&Guide, “Tax denied, town needs new funding,” may be off-base. The tax was for housing and transportation — $12 million a year for public housing and the bus.

Maybe voters said no to the expanded programs themselves, not just the funding source. Maybe they’re against more public housing and buses.

The bus isn’t a transportation solution and voters know that. Subsidized housing increases crowding and traffic gridlock. Maybe voters didn’t want more gridlock.

It’s more likely voters were simply defending their quality of life. They just want a livable place to call home.

One town councilor said “we’re being asked to address transportation and housing problems” and “we’re not afforded the funds.”

Voters denied the funds. That’s true. And the same voters are extremely generous as evidenced by many $-millions of voluntary giving. So why would they say no?

They didn’t agree with the program. They don’t see middle class public housing as a solution to the problem of overcrowding. It makes things worse, not better.

The pro-tax folks spent a lot more money than the anti-tax folks. The pro folks put up a fancy website, too, and they lost.

Politicians need to accept the loss and stop pretending voters support their big-growth agenda.

Maybe the headline should have been “Voters say no to public housing.”

The article warns of “increasing congestion due to the council’s fiscal inability to fund projects.” That’s simply not true. Funding the projects will increase congestion. More people, more congestion.

Voters said “no” to limit congestion and protect their quality of life.

Politicians think they have a mandate for public housing, but that never came from the voters. There is no mandate for housing or the bus. The mirage of a mandate came from politicians that spent five years manipulating the comp plan.

Voters never voted on the so called “community priorities” stated in the comp plan. And the politicians that crafted the plan never did a real transportation study. Maybe they didn’t want to know the answer.

A legitimate transportation study will show what voters know already: Our road network is maxed out. Highway 22 is maxed out, the “Y” is a big-time bottleneck and you cannot push more traffic through town. Maybe the headline should have read “Voters say no to more gridlock.”

Unfortunately, there’s a whole lot of pretense in local politics. The truth is:

  1. The Comp Plan isn’t the people’s plan. Politicians spent more than $200,000 to ensure voters couldn’t vote on it.
  2. Voters never said yes to the “community priorities.” They were dictated by politicians in the Comp Plan.
  3. The Comp Plan is only an advisory document, but politicians treat it as gospel when it suits them.
  4. The bus has been around for four decades and carries only 1 percent of trips. Voters subsidize 85 percent of the cost. As a transportation solution, the bus is a failure.
  5. Subsidized workforce housing is a handout to local businesses. Voters don’t want to subsidize local businesses, some of which are very wealthy.
  6. The Chamber of Commerce supports public housing and transportation because it’s money in its members’ pockets.

We need to be realistic. Our roadways can’t handle more growth. In an August 2015 article, the News&Guide reported that a Jackson man had “seen his 20-minute drive from work in Teton Village increase to a full hour.”

On Nov. 8 voters said no to overcrowding. They said no to local government housing and transportation programs, not just the funding.

They voted for a livable Jackson Hole. Louis Wang is a Jackson resident affiliated with Save Historic Jackson Hole. Columns expressly represent the views of the author.

Louis Wang

Tax Tanks

Was it merely resistance to a tax hike?
Was it reluctance to hand our local leaders a blank check and trust the money will make it’s way to housing and transportation?
Was it a rejection of the socialist aspect of government-provided housing for the middle class?
Was it the trickery and deceitfulness employed by town and county officials, who were so desperate to develop another funding source they insisted this was not a tax increase when it was obvious that most voters saw through that?

It could have been a number of things, but the fact remains: the people have spoken. If we are to address our housing shortage and traffic challenges we will have to do so with a careful, measured approach that involves more than just throwing money at the problems.
As in the referendum, once again Save Historic Jackson Hole feels so very fortunate that the intentions of the majority were heard, acknowledged, and triumphant.
It’s time to move forward, as a community dedicated to retaining our small town, western charm.

Tax Hike: bad idea

We are not in favor of a proposed sales tax increase in the name of funding housing and transportation strategies.

We couldn’t have said it better than the local Tea Party. Nice job, folks!

 

Here is a text version of the Tea Party’s new ad:

The Hole in One

Vote NO on the 1% tax!

The arguments being used to sell the 1% General Tax to Teton County voters, at best, are less than honest. At worst, they are reprehensible for trying to guilt us into voting for it. The claim is that if those not voting for the 1% are against housing and transportation; don’t care if Teton County workers live in cars, tents, or are just plain homeless; and will be responsible for all the traffic snarls at the “Y” intersection. Teton County residents should be outraged that some office holders and the nonprofits we already support are trying to guilt us into lavishing more funds on them and that they think us so naive that we can’t see the truth.

Let’s be clear: no one who opposes the 1% tax is against housing and transportation solutions. Once again, to make sure it is heard. NO ONE who opposes the 1% is against housing and transportation solutions.

Let’s review the many problems associated with the 1% tax and the misleading way it’s being sold.

  • The money collected will go into the general fund. The pledge signed by the elected officials to spend the funds on housing and transportation is not binding – not on themselves and not those who might replace them in the future. It may not even be legal to dedicate general funds for specific projects.
  • There is no guarantee that the 1% tax, unlike a SPET, will ever expire. It takes a simple vote by the town council or county commission to extend it indefinitely.
  • Is it a tax increase? Yes! Going from the state’s 4% base to 5% was an increase. Going from 5% to 6% – whether by SPET or this 1% tax is also an increase. And, there is every likelihood that the sales tax in Teton County will rise to 7% and stay there as new SPETs are piled onto the 1%.
  • Why give our electeds even more funds when they have demonstrated a lack of ability to manage the funds they have? Think of the projects funded without a bidding process or an agreed upon budget. Think about chronic cost over runs and failed deadlines on housing projects, pathways, the pathway bridge, projects approved without consideration for maintenance or operational costs, etc. The government appears unable to make tough choices and to distinguish between “wants” and “needs” in our community.
  • We frequently read in our local newspapers that county revenues have never been higher, thanks to ever increasing levels of tourism, even if state sources of revenue are declining. Do we really need the revenue from the 1% tax?
  • Proponents imply that without the 1% there will be no budget for housing and transportation. If this were true, from where did the funds for past projects come? And where are the funds for future projects under consideration? The budgets either exist or our electeds are spending money they don’t have, which would be even more irresponsible.
  • If the 1% tax is approved, every dollar previously earmarked for housing and transportation can be reallocated to other projects that elected officials find appealing. This windfall provides a new source of discretionary funds and is a very subtle and unstated effect of the 1% tax. Don’t believe for a second that there aren’t funds for housing and transportation in the existing budget or that such projects won’t be funded in the absence of the 1% tax. Wouldn’t you call it dishonest when your votes are courted without full disclosure?
  • Finally, who is Community Priorities Coalition that is supporting the 1% tax so vigorously. You won’t find them identified on their own web site. But they are the Friends of Pathways, Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Jackson Hole Community Housing Trust, and Valley Advocates for Responsible Development. Now these are not bad people or bad organizations with bad causes. But why are they all lined up in a coalition to support the tax? Well, maybe they see a windfall of freed up budget funds as a new source of funding for themselves. In a time of supposed fiscal belt tightening, at least some of these organizations’ pet projects could be classified as “wants” and not “needs.”

So what can you do?

Well, obviously, vote against the 1% general sales tax. Force our electeds to be fiscally responsible, make tough decisions when necessary, and fully disclose all the ramifications of their budgets and funding requests.

Not on board

Is throwing millions of dollars into Jackson Hole’s mass transit system going to get people to ride the bus?

Are you ready to hand over your car keys to the city slicker government that wants you to walk, ride, or bike to work?

Hey we love saving the environment as much as the next person, and traffic has become impossible. But the idea that a solution lies in tax-and-spend programs that will buy more buses, hire more people to drive them, and build a bigger bus barn to keep them warm in, is ludicrous.

We are not all on the bus with this tax that will generate $36 million for START Bus over the next 4 years.

 

Our latest ad…

start-bus

Jackson: Under Construction

These are the latest headlines of our community, plucked straight from the newspaper:

 

Gridlock is the rule…

Prostitution bust at Snow King…

Prostitution bust at Super 8…

Police make another prostitution bust at Cowboy Village

Three busted for meth in Jackson

Teenage abuse of drugs a worry

Manhunt is on for local man wanted for vehicular homicide

Motel assault…

Jackson man in jail, arrested for battery

Fugitive in auto death…

Slate smacks of big city politics

Gill Addition house shows changing Jackson

Hit and run caught on camera

 

It’s sad what we are becoming.

Not every news story is an indication we are on the way to big city blight, of course, but that’s exactly how small town communities like ours slip away. Little by little, we pave our own road to ruin—all the while making excuses. “One more hotel. One more highway lane. One more tax hike.”

We only get one chance to mess this place up.

Don’t let it be on our watch.

 

“God bless Wyoming, and keep it wild.” Helen Mettler 1925

Our latest ad

In case you missed it. This is SHJH’s latest ad urging voters not to pass a sales tax increase in order to continue a plan of massive buildout, and traffic-generating growth. Tax-and-spend is not the answer to our overcrowding and traffic issues.

A failed housing department was given a vote of “no confidence” when town and county officials yanked phase 3 of The Grove from their own agency and handed it to Habitat for Humanity—at even greater cost than the Housing Authority was proposing.

Now elected officials want to fund their failed department again. With even more money. By taxing you.

Don’t aid this wasteful practice of paying for a housing agency that hasn’t put enough units on the ground to make a difference, and certainly has not done it cost-effectively. And don’t agree to pay even more for a bus system that runs a bloated budget now without noticeably taking any cars off the road (1% of traffic reduction is the current estimate by START’s own numbers.)

1-penny-tax-housing

 

Wildlife deserves more

Do we really care about wildlife?

Time and again, we as a community make it clear that we cherish our natural resources, our open spaces, our pristine environment, and most of all, our wildlife.

 

Many of the growth-enabling moves we see our electeds make appear to be in opposition to wildlife. How can adding more hotels, more condo rentals, and more housing benefit wildlife? These things out more and more vehicles on the road and create a massacre situation on our highways for elk, door, moose, and other animals.

Well, that didn’t take long

Remember that promise not increase our sales tax with this November’s proposed additional one penny general sales that town and county officials hope will fund housing and transportation issues? Our leaders are already considering reneging on that because they need money for their bus barn apartment complex in Karns Meadow.

The project will house up to 67 government employees in 24 units as part of an 18,250-square-foot expansion of the big city mass transit depot in the last remaining pristine and riparian area of Jackson. Electeds like what they’ve seen so far of the design presented by Jorgensen Associates. There’s only one problem: paying for it.

Design costs alone are projected at $640,740. Build out in today’s dollars is estimated at $6.9 million.

Where will town and county officials get that kind of money? From us, the taxpayer, of course. According to agenda documents prepared for today’s Joint Information Meeting to discuss the START Bus Housing Project, alternative #7 identifies SPET as one possible source.

Read more in today’s edition of Jackson Hole Media.

John Turner speaks out

Here’s an oldie but a goody from former state senator John Turner. He wrote this letter to the editor back in February 2016.

A fiscal ambush

A sneak attack on the voters of Teton County. I feel that is what the recent proposal to increase the general sales tax to fund housing, transportation, and the slide represents. Once enacted, the additional funds would be unrestricted, could continue for years and would likely have no direct accountability to the citizens of the county.

When the optional sales taxes provisions were passed by the Legislature to meet the growing needs of local communities, we carefully tailored the SPET to be used for specific projects, with defined costs and with a limited time span to be applied. Appropriately, local officials have to periodically go before the voters and carefully justify their case for transparent and limited expenditures. This is the appropriate vehicle to consider for launching significant requests for what promises to be mountains of new spending.

When I was first elected to the Wyoming Legislature, Teton County was the poorest in Wyoming. It was a time when local officials had to be extremely cautious in selecting priorities and spending limited funds. Today we are fortunate to have substantial revenues flowing into local coffers. So much that one sometimes gets the impression that there is a lack of adequate planning, prioritization and accountability.

Example: The final reported building cost of the Grove Phase II was $9.9 million, $4.6 million or 88 percent above the estimates initially approved at $5.3 million. Before enacting significant funds for the legitimate need of housmg, I believe the voters need assurance that we can design and build projects efficiently and responsibly. SPET provides that accountability.

I hope local officials will rethink the funding pathway they wish to present the community.

John F. Turner
John F. Turner

John F. Turner

Former State Senator

(Teton, Sublette and north Lincoln counties)

Moose