JACKSON HOLE, WYO – Town leaders got an earful from both sides but at the end of a 4-hour meeting the council held firm to District 2 land development regulations that recently added short-term commercial potential to 15 blocks of the downtown core. In addition, elected officials also decided to enact a numerical cap that leaders felt would better ensure high-end condo development didn’t get out of hand in Jackson. A 100,000-square-foot threshold of short-term rentals was established. It was enough to satisfy councilman Jim Stanford, but Don Frank became the sole no vote as the council moved to again makeover District 2 land regs and send the ordinance back to first reading. Second reading is expected to take place July 18.
The upshot is that while short-term rentals did sneak their way back into the LDRs for District 2, the 2.4 million square feet potential of such commercial lodging will be limited to 100,000 square feet—at which time, a new ordinance would have to be passed to allow for short-term rental development to go beyond this mark.
We aren’t the only ones upset with our elected officials over their change-up in zoning in downtown Jackson where they opted, in the 11th hour, to add millions more square feet of commercial after promising not to. The result of which, by the way, could mean more 50 more hotels in the core of downtown Jackson alone. That’s right…50 more 115-room hotels.
That’s an incredible amount of increased traffic and growth generator. Besides the tourists driving to and from the hotels, each will require staff. Reservations desk, bellboy, valet, concierge, maintenance, housekeepers, laundry, cooks, servers, HVAC repair, and administrators like a GM, assistants, PR, HR, Food & Beverages.
It was a major decision made in AFTER public participation convinced town leaders to stop building hotels and restaurants that worsen our housing and transportation problems. When you’re in a hole, you stop digging, right?
The town council passed out shovels to every condo builder and hotel developer who wants to make a buck in Jackson.
Mayoral candidate Pete Muldoon wrote this editorial for Planet JH about what he said was a “backroom deal” that came as a “shock to most residents.”
The following letter to the editor ran in June 27, 2016 of the News&Guide.
In case you missed it:
Dear Town elected officials,
Help us understand. Because this is all we know:
You saw and heard the public outcry. Roomfuls of sobbing residents convinced you to not add more commercial zoning in District 2. You agreed and were resolute, staff had it drawn up, and it needed only the formality of three public readings to become ordinance.
Then, when everyone went home and the room was empty, you pulled a fast one. In the days leading up to your last meeting two councilors were invited to lunch with an ex-mayor and other powerful hoteliers/businessmen in the community. A third was wined and dined by Think About It Jackson Hole. And the mayor was approached by a turncoat organization that once led the charge to house people rather than build Marriotts.
Suddenly, after working with a major hotel developer, the Alliance too was “bewitched” and asked you to change your minds and add more hotel rooms to downtown Jackson. Only Jim Stanford was not invited to taste the Kool-Aid. Is it because they know Stanford is “untouchable?”
You made a shady, last-minute, backdoor deal and added millions of square feet of allowable short-term lodging, which will exacerbate our housing and traffic problems. You waited until you thought no one was watching to pull your switcheroo.
Please explain how this is good government? You must know what everyone is saying. There is no transparency in Town government, no integrity. It was “Chicago politics.”
People want a livable community. You need to fix this at your July 5 meeting.
Would you move to Pinedale if START sent a bus there?
Can you drive the bus?
In other words, even if a bus run would prove viable, START has no one to drive it. What else do our leaders need from us? Do they need us to fill it up, too, at Hoback Market on the way there?
Maybe Pinedale will end up being a part of the solution to our housing woes. Maybe our workforce would be more than happy to commute 4 hours a day to fold sheets for hotels charging $600 for a night’s stay.
Is this the community we remember? Is this the Jackson Hole we want to live in?
April Norton has been chosen to head the new joint Affordable Housing Department. Norton was selected from an applicant pool of 15. That group was narrowed to three finalists last week that included Norton, T.R. Pierce, and S.C. Howard.
A panel of six conducted the interviews: Alyssa Watkins (county administrator), Julianne Fries (county HR), Bob McLaurin (town manager), Tyler Sinclair (joint planning director), Barbara Allen (BCC chair) and Sara Flitner (mayor). Watkins made the final decision today on Norton.
“April proved to be a strong candidate with a passion for addressing the future of our community and the competencies necessary for success in the Housing Director position,” Watkins said in a prepared statement. “We look forward to a successful program of housing production, preservation and management under her leadership.”
Norton is a 12-year resident of Jackson. She is currently a program officer for the LOR Foundation, where she has been employed since 2012. Norton also worked as associate director for Friends of Pathways and operations manager at the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce. She is married to Alex Norton, joint long-range planner for the town and county.
“Like most everyone else in this community, I want to find solutions to our housing problem,” Norton said. “Using my foundation background, which is rooted in community collaboration and solutions, I feel I bring a unique skill set to the housing director role and look forward to working with our community to address our workforce housing issues.”
Norton will take direction from town and county leaders as well as a three-member board (Matt Faupel, Amy Robinson and Danielle Goldyn-Haigh) put in place on May 1.
Elected officials agreed to establish a Community Priorities Fund and in doing so completely ignored the No. 1 concern of the community: conservation. Time and again, when polled, residents of Teton County have been in unison when it comes to preserving wildlife, habitat and open space. In fact, it’s the one and only thing this diverse community can agree on.
Time and again, our desires are ignored.
The 2012 Comp Plan calls for the establishment of a “dedicated funding source for conservation easements and other measures that protect the wildlife habitat, habitat connections, and scenery valued by the community.” To date, none has been designated.
When presented with the perfect opportunity to do so—voting on a general sales tax increase to fund this community’s priorities—electeds once again said no to conservation. At Monday’s JIM, they voted unanimously to raise taxes for housing (50%) and transportation (50%), exclusively.
Commissioner Smokey Rhea expressed her concern that wildlife was not being considered. Commissioner Mark Newcomb took a stronger stance, electing to abstain from the vote in a show of displeasure. It was a nice gesture but a no vote would have been more powerful. Granted, abstaining meant he did not have to cast a vote that would likely be perceived as opposed to housing, which is a death sentence to any politician right now.
It certainly appears as if our elected officials are more worried about reelection and keeping their jobs than they are in doing the bidding of its citizens.
Housing is the perceived fire that needs to be put out immediately—today, say elected officials. Adequate workforce housing inventory (rental or ownership) for lower- or middleclass has always been a challenge in the valley, but creating a tax to fund the issue is a desperate knee-jerk measure in response to the intense emotional clamor of the day.
A vote to raise taxes for housing would have gone nowhere in 2010 when the recession helped keep real estate process in check and adequate rentals available to a degree. At various times through the last two decades, housing has been on the front burner, back burner, and sometimes not even on the stove at all. Planning for the future of the county should be a big picture undertaking, not a menu serving of the soup du jour.
It’s the squeaky wheel today. It is causing politicians to bend to pressure and forget a few things:
Is government built housing effectively solving the problem? We need to build 3 Groves each year for the next 10 years to keep up with projected growth. Government subsidized building (using the latest metrics) works out to a cost of nearly half a million dollars per unit. We’ll need $125M in today’s dollars, to do this. Can’t be done.
Will a private-public partnership get the job done? Based on current numbers for the Housing Trust’s Redmond-Hall project ($12M for 28 units), this arrangement can put housing on the ground for $429,000 a unit. Not much better.
What part of building apartment complexes maintains dark skies at night, or natural landforms, or pristine hillsides/buttes, or keeping open vistas? All called for in the Comp Plan.
One last thing. Let’s say electeds really didn’t give two shakes about wildlife/habitat/open space even though, when asked, valley residents respond somewhere around 75% in favor of funding these priorities, or at least considering them the most important thing we care about as a community.
Given that, wouldn’t it be prudent to at least include conservation on the short list of things we want to tax ourselves for? If a penny increase in sales tax proposal went something like 50% for housing, 30% for transportation, and 20% for wildlife/habitat preservation—wouldn’t that at least be a little more palatable to voters? Sweetening a tax increase with a little sugar might have worked.
As it stands, ANY amount of money we throw at housing will likely be perceived as either a waste or unproductive. We can give START Bus a zillion dollars tomorrow to buy a trillion buses and that still won’t mean more people will ride the bus.
Our elected leaders have virtually guaranteed the failure of this tax at the polls this November.
The homeless have a voice, and their struggles are certainly real and sorrowful. Jackson Hole’s wild creatures, its beautiful landscapes and unspoiled natural features cannot speak. Save Historic Jackson Hole has been and will always be dedicated to reminding our government leaders what we as a united community have always stood for: Wild Wyoming.
Faced with staying put with 1994 Comp Plan numbers that included 5.1 million square feet of commercial potential in the town and county, joint leaders were feeling pressure to increase these numbers. Some groups advocated for more nonresidential buildout while others — like Save Historic Jackson Hole — rallied against more commercial being added to the downtown District 2.
Town electeds heard our voice. They changed their minds and, together with the county commissioners, voted unanimously to hold to what nonresidential currently exists on the books. It’s a sensible solution.
SHJH was also successful in changing the minds of the council regarding parking spaces for residential properties in D2. Only one space was going to be required for a downtown apartment regardless of how many bedrooms it had. It is unrealistic to assume a family or multiple families renting a 3BR unit would have only one car. Regulations were changed upped to one vehicle per bedroom (2 max).
But it’s not over yet. Individuals and organizations like Think About It, Jackson Hole are rallying to have the vote overturned or changed. The LDR revision must go through three readings to become a regulation. It is expected to meet stiff opposition at every step.
First reading is Monday, June 6, at 6 p.m. in town hall chambers. SHJH would love for you to make this meeting if only to show support for what town officials have already decided, and to make sure they don’t get their mind’s changed at the last minute by special interest groups.
Judd Grossman, candidate for town council, wrote the following on his Facebook page. We reprint here only because we at Save Historic Jackson Hole have been asking ourselves the same questions.
Regarding the Budge Slide, Town needs to do a better job of answering the following questions:
Who’s fault is the slide?
Do we understand what went wrong and have we taken steps to make sure that the errors aren’t being repeated?
Why should the taxpayers foot the bill?
If the taxpayers pay up front to fix the slide will Town be able to clawback the money once the courts decide who is liable?
Is the Town legal team aggressively fighting for the taxpayer’s interests?
What are the real odds of the slide creating catastrophic damage to Broadway?
Often public safety is used as an unassailable argument for government initiatives. Public safety is a core government responsibility, but needs to be tempered with return on investment based on real actuarial math, and a careful analysis of who is actually liable for the remediation. I’m reminded of the Great Recession bank bail out where the taxpayers were cajoled into bailing out the private sector in the name of impending economic disaster.
The SPET ballot process is the perfect venue for these concerns to be discussed and resolved. Which begs the question: Why are the Town and County killing SPET after August, and replacing it with their own unaccountable, blank check, money grab in the form of a General Excise Tax Increase? Are they expecting that we won’t have any more unexpected (or preplanned) big ticket capital expenses in the future?
The town discussion on a potential campsite for temporary laborers derailed before it ever got going. Councilman Jim Stanford appeared to be the only one interested in exploring the idea but he was not joined by his colleagues.
Don Frank said, “I have to ask the philosophical question: Is it the government’s job to house employees…or private businesses that should take the lead to house their own employees?”
Both Frank and Bob Lenz had no appetite for using the Home Ranch lot as a temporary camping site. They said that belongs to parking guests of downtown Jackson.
Mayor Sara Flitner, on the verge of tears, said she feels for the families currently living out of their cars or on the brink of being homeless.
“I’m disappointed. I’m a mom. The backseat of a car is nowhere for a family to live,” Flitner said. “I know our community is facing pressure, but I am going to encourage this council to focus on permanent, longterm solutions for the people who are cleaning our toilets, cleaning our schools, [etc]…”
Flitner called some solutions well-intentioned (“Like the father and son who put the baby bison in the back of their Tahoe,” she said) but without sensibility. The mayor said she was particularly dismayed by a call she received last night informing her that one family in the valley may be asking their 15-year-old daughter to drop out of high school so she can get a job and help the family make rent on their studio apartment.
Stanford blamed online social media discussions earlier today for derailing the discussion before it could even get going.
“It’s unfortunate that before we could even have this discussion there was an online ‘arms race’ that seeks to distort this issue,” Stanford said.
He added that he was willing to “take the bullet on this” if that’s what it took to “show a little bit of compassion for folks being squeezed right now.”
The council decided to take no further action on the possibility of temporary camping facilities within town limits but did agree to let Stanford explore potential options with county leaders on possible suitable sites for temporary housing.