Epic battle over Jackson’s future

Wrap-up of one doozy of a council meeting over LDR revisions.

Mayor Sara Flitner began the epic 4-hour meeting by saying, “I feel the tension in the room.”

She got that right.

The packed house included the usual suspects—Mary Gibson (JH Alliance), Kelly Lockhart (large landowner), Judd Grossman (political activist)—along with some of the valley’s heaviest hitters like Clarene Law (hotelier), Max Chapman (hotelier), Jim Darwiche (hotelier), Jeffrey Fuechsel (banker), Mark Barron (ex-mayor, business owner), Jay Varley (property owner), Jeff Golightly (Chamber of Commerce), Joe Rice (restaurateur), Greg Prugh (real estate developer).

All acknowledged the housing crisis was a real community issue but differed on what approach might get more workforce housing built. With most of the LDR revisions for District 2 pretty much cemented and awaiting approval, there was little in the way of excitement to expect until a palpable 11th hour pushback to re-increase nonresidential potential in Jackson’s downtown core.

The basic argument of the pro-commercial/lodging folks was they needed increased FAR and better tools, in general, in order to make affordable housing pencil. If they didn’t get a commercial component, they threatened, it would result in urban decay and sprawl.

Let us build commercial on ground levels and apartment units on the second and third floor, they pleaded. That’s the solution to our housing problem, they said.

Pete Muldoon strapping up for a fight.
Pete Muldoon strapping up for a fight.

Pete Muldoon, who has been stumping for Bernie Sanders of late, called their arguments bunk.

“Business owners say they want to build housing but they just need more tools and rights. That is not helping the problem, you are making it worse,” Muldoon said. “Let’s say you go beyond the housing mitigation and actually house ALL the employees your business creates [instead of the currently required 25 percent mitigation fee], every one of them. You have to think of the multiplier. Those employees are going to have spouses and kids. They are going to need more services. They are going to have kids going to school; they are going to need to go eat somewhere or go to the grocery store. That generates even more employees and furthers our shortage of workforce housing.

“So it’s not enough to house even 100 percent of the employees your hotel or business creates—which I don’t think anyone is even proposing—because you are [exacerbating the problem]. I’m disappointed to see people coming back trying to renegotiate this. This was decided. I’ve seen this push in the past few days from people saying they are going to solve the problem [with more commercial]. That’s not a solution that is going to work.”

In the end, the council voted 4-1 to move to a first reading of adopting LDRs for D2, bringing to a potential close a three-and-a-half year saga.

No ParkingNo Parking

Save Historic Jackson Hole appeared to have some effect on the outcome. Little was tweaked on staff’s final recommendations including standing pat on not adding additional latent nonresidential on top of the more than 2 million square feet already on the books and available for development. Councilors also held firm on a 3-story limit to downtown buildings even though developers argued that if they could fit four floors in an allowable 46-foot building why not let them?

But one detail irked SHJH and found purchase with council members Don Frank and Jim Stanford. Parking requirements were to be reduced to .75 vehicles per lodging unit and 1 car max for a residential unit regardless of how many bedrooms it had. Never mind the voodoo math behind asking tourists to drive only ¾ of their family station wagon to their Jackson motel room, but the notion that a family (or two families) renting a 2- or 3-BR place would have only one car and no canoes, ATVs, snowmobiles, etc., was little more than a pipe dream.

We understand the town wishes everyone to walk everywhere, and then take the bus when their legs give out. But people come to Jackson Hole to hike, bike, raft, fish, hunt and they’ll need a car to get to the beautiful forests we all love. Was Jackson going to be like the wild and wooly cattle towns of the Old West where an ordinance demanded cowboys surrender their six shooters upon arrival in order to keep the peace?

“WELCOME TO JACKSON…please proceed to the nearest dealership
and trade in your vehicle for a pair of running shoes and a bus pass.”

Frank didn’t think it logical.

“I understand the purpose [of reducing parking requirements for residential]. I do understand it will spur develop,” Frank said. “But it is a chimera to think people are not going to own cars. It’s false prophecy.”

Even Stanford, who prefers biking, bussing, or walking to starting up his car, admitted underparked residences were going to mean either big city headaches like alternate side street parking or the building of a lot more municipal garages like the one we already don’t use.

The council directed staff to put the parking requirements back to 1 car per bedroom, up to 2 total per residence.

Death by a thousand Mondays

Is your quaint little mountain town changing too fast? Is it being systematically ruined by the everyday course of actions from your electeds? Save Historic Jackson Hole often thinks so and we’re not alone. (Wait ‘til you hear what Kate Mead said at Monday’s town meeting).

Every day, Save Historic Jackson Hole fights for the preservation of our rural community values, and promotes responsible growth and development.

Why are we necessary?

Take for example Monday, April 18, 2016. One day in the life of town electeds. This Monday’s docket was a veritable minefield of items that blow up this community.

Pole bending or pole dancing?

Taking a break from less pressing matters like LDRs and the great flight of the middleclass to more affordable communities, the town council tackled Adult Entertainment Businesses—a polite euphemism for strip clubs. Where in town do we want them and how close to sensitive areas like schools should we put them? With myriad problems our community faces, this urgent issue took center stage for 45 minutes complete with a debate over whether trees and shrubbery planted to shield the “Girls, Girls, Girls” neon sign from motorists, along with single-occupancy restrooms, would inhibit or promote patrons from “getting it on” right there on premise.

Where is appropriate for strip clubs in Jackson? How about nowhere?

The town says they are simply trying to get out ahead of what could be a Constitutional rights infringement of a future Kit Kat Klub in Jackson. These places are popping up more and more all over the place, town attorney Audrey Cohen-Davis said. Town council appeared comfortable with a 300-foot buffer between strip joints and a school. So in one end zone of a school football field we could have the pep band and cheerleaders, and in the other end zone could be a “Tommy’s Topless Tetons.” Nice.

Budge slide II

Here we go again. Learning nothing from the Budge slide debacle and still having it unfixed and unpaid for, town leaders appear eager to green light more housing on the precarious butte. Honestly, you can’t make this stuff up.

If building 20 affordable housing units on a butte that is still moving every day isn’t ludicrous enough, the council and project developer (Charlie Schwartz and Eric Grove) added a little more challenge to the nightmare by suggesting ingress and egress at the most chaotic intersection in town (the “Y”) would not be that bad. It would be no more difficult trying to turn out of this proposed housing complex than it was when it was Choice Meats or the car rental place, they claimed. In fact, Schwartz said, it would be far less ‘trafficky’ than the 2,538 average daily trips generated when the site was a deli/gas station.

Really?

Kate Mead, whose family lives and ranches in Spring Gulch, was beside herself with the absurdity.

“I wanted to cry when I saw this,” Mead began at the meeting where, as a TCSD No. 1 trustee she thought she would be there only to save school kids from G-strings and pasties. “We are effectively ruining this town. And we do it because we think we need to provide everybody with a place to live here. Why are we trying to build housing for employers who don’t want to pay people a sustainable wage in this town?

“Our family has worked diligently as have others across the street from this development. We’ve done conservation easements. Seeing this makes me wonder why the hell we bother. It’s just one thing after another and you start to think why is it that elected officials in this town can’t say, ‘Hey, not everybody can live here.’ I think we are overly enamored with the idea of workforce housing. Come on, you kill the golden goose, eventually. Workforce housing is not that important because people who hire people should house them themselves like we do on our ranches. Do that and we don’t need these big housing developments.”

Regarding the site location and potential traffic hazards of getting in and out of what councilman Don Frank called an “oddball piece of property,” Mead continued to be flabbergasted.

“Eventually you will have so many people in Jackson that Highway 22 will be unmanageable, which it already is. In the summer it is crazy because all the jackasses out of Wilson have to get to the light first, right? I’m really horrified by the intensity of the development [proposed] on this site. And it’s laughable to suggest this is a less intense use than it was before.”

And lastly, Mead could not believe the town was even considering building up on the butte again. She explained her involvement with the Budge Drive litigation as an attorney in town.

“Budge Drive litigation showed that the soils were loam with a clay layer underneath. What a surprise. And our engineers said, ‘Oh yeah, you can continue to take away that hill. You can continue to put stuff up there. It’s going to be just fine.’ This is the same hill, the same butte. I just think it’s something you can say no to.”

Kate Mead
Kate M

NIMBYism

There was more. Town planners talked about the desirability of having more AR zoning—places where an accessory dwelling unit could be added on to a garage or something. It’s an admirable and less impactful way of adding housing without beefing up density to the point we have 4-story inner city projects.

The biggest obstacle, though? Various HOA’s and CCR’s will likely supersede anything the town might zone. After all, we talk a good game about wanting and needing things like more housing and better cell phone coverage, as long as it’s not in our backyard.

School officials also came forth to ask to plug into the town’s sewer system at their proposed Hog Island school. Fourth grader’s poopy would have to be piped three miles uphill. The arrangement would save the school district about $600,000 if they had to treat onsite.

The deal would require a potential 10-inch sewer line in order to accommodate expected future growth and neighborhood development around the school. More families will require more day cares, grocery stores, gas stations, strip clubs, and, predictably, more poop pipeline. Town administrator Bob McLaurin said a sewer district should also be created in the new South Jackson/Hog Island town that is sure to spring up around the school.

When councilman Jim Stanford and former politician Pete Jorgenson (who phoned in from Arizona to speak at the meeting) tried to question school district COO Brad Barker on why that location was chosen, Barker said he wasn’t going to engage in that discussion, he was merely there to get his toilet water drained into Jackson’s waste facility plant.

“I thought ‘Town as Heart’ meant that’s where we wanted additional development?” Jorgenson questioned. “This is the opposite of that. This will have huge implications down the line.”

Stanford was the sole no vote when the town agreed to let the school deliver their sh*t. “This is not a done deal. The land has been purchased, but it can also be sold. No construction has begun,” Stanford said. “I’m only bringing this up on behalf of constituents I am hearing from. There are some larger planning issues at stake here.”

 

Sometimes we pause long enough to look up and we are somehow shocked by what we see. “How did we get here?” we ask ourselves. “What happened to our peaceful little mountain town?”

What happened is a thousand Monday’s like this last one. One by one they add up. The lobster doesn’t even realize the water is getting hotter until it’s boiled to death.