New council candidates focus on housing
Incumbents look to continue initiatives.
By Noah Brenner, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
June 4, 2008
The need to find room for the work force in a rapidly growing valley has been a key issue for many of the 10 residents in the nonpartisan Jackson Town Council race.
Some candidates have focused on increasing the availability of traditional deed-restricted affordable housing, while others focused on ensuring there was an adequate supply of rental properties.
Others want to encourage growth patterns that could create more homes for people who earn a living in the valley.
The 10 candidates are running for two seats on the council. No one has filed to run against Mayor Mark Barron, who will stand for re-election.
The August primary will winnow the council field down to four candidates. The two seats will be filled in the November general election
Challenger Tommy Wood’s main issue is increasing access to affordable rentals.
“Affordable housing is important, but until we can get people to a place where their credit history is good enough and their income is high enough to meet their housing needs, they are never going to get ahead enough,” he said. “It could mean either [deed restricted or free market].”
Wood, 29, has lived in Jackson for the past two years, working with nonprofit groups, most recently serving as director of programs for the Community Resource Center.
“I want to see Jackson thrive, and at the current state of events I feel like we are going to lose our work force and middle class,” he said. “Between my wife and I, last tax year we worked six jobs. ... and that is the plight of the work force here, but we are committed to it and love it and want to stay.”
Kyle Burson also thinks the town needs to focus on the rental market. Burson is running for council for the second consecutive election cycle.
Burson, 48, has lived in Jackson Hole for 20 years. He is a board member for Teton Adaptive Sports and volunteers with the Boy Scouts. He is a former member of the START board.
“We’ve got to get some new blood in there,” Burson said of his decision to seek office again. “They are going the same direction they have been, and I would like to see a little bit of change especially with housing”
Burson pointed to the ongoing debate over new regulations governing conversion of existing apartment buildings to condominium ownership as one of the major housing issues that the council is not addressing properly.
“We need apartments, not condos, and they are going for more condos,” Burson said.
Town Jackson Planning Commissioner Greg Miles sees some of the solution to Jackson’s housing problems in the way the town plans for growth.
“Smart growth is definitely my platform,” he said. “We need to keep the ideas and principles of smart growth in mind when we review decisions we are making on projects downtown and infrastructure downtown.”
Miles, 49, has lived in the valley since 1978 and worked in construction, as a ski patroller and as a climbing guide before he began to acquire and develop rental properties. He has served six years on the Jackson Planning Commission.
“We should be trying to look for ways to develop more housing opportunities in town and work with the text amendments [to land development regulations] we need to make and the comp plan to find ways to get more housing choices and opportunities,” he said
Matt Carr, 37, views housing as a key to maintaining a high quality of life in the community.
“The one thing for me is how keep a majority of the work force living in this community, and right now we are really teetering on the edge,” he said. “A lot of people are moving to Teton Valley, Idaho, and as that happens I think we lose our sense of community.”
Carr was a Teton County Sheriff’s Office deputy for six years and continues to teach the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program in valley schools. He has not previously held elected office. He has lived in the valley since 1993, and he and his wife have two children.
Carr said he would like to increase affordable housing requirements for developers, the fee in lieu paid by developers that don’t meet their full housing requirement, and encourage legislators to enact a real estate transfer tax that could fund affordable housing programs.
“It’s just trying to maintain as much of the workforce that wants to be able to live here,” he said.
Matt Lee also sees a lack of affordable housing as a threat to the fabric of the community.
“With affordable housing I hope to ensure a vital community going forward,” he said. “I have a 5-year-old daughter and I plan to be here long-term and want her to grow up here. I want a good middle-class diversity of folks living here full time.”
Lee, 39, moved here in 1996 to work in the construction industry. He volunteers with Habitat for Humanity and the Rotary Club.
“I am running because I want to raise the question of affordable housing primarily and try to make it a priority for the Town of Jackson,” he said from the latest Habitat for Humanity construction site.
“As property values continue to escalate, the open market is no longer going to support any sort of housing for locals — people that live here and make their living here,” he said.
In addition to affordable housing, Lee said town leaders may need to consider subsidized commercial space to help retain small, locally owned business.
John Bickner Jr. moved to the valley in the 1970s with his family, he said in an e-mail response to questions.
“We are invested in Jackson Hole and are concerned about the way the town deals with the changes to our community,” he said. “I look to the long-range future of Jackson as a unique community with remarkable historical and environmental importance.”
He cited the need to balance development and housing and the needs of visitors and locals as Jackson grows but did not emphasize housing issues as much as some other candidates. Bickner said he also sees a need for better communication between councilors and their constituents.
“I would like to improve the relationship between town decision makers and residents, especially property owners,” he said. “Clearly, we must make certain the process of informing citizens is as efficient as possible.”
Louise Lasley is perhaps the only new candidate not focused on affordable housing, but she is focused on development. Lasley would like to see more cooperation between the town and county and consideration of how development in the town affects natural resources in the county.
Lasley has lived in Teton County for 24 years and in Jackson for 17 years after first coming to the valley as a high school science teacher. She is currently the public lands director for the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance. She said the results of public surveys done as part of the comprehensive-plan revision process show that protecting natural resources was the highest priority for town and county residents.
“The other item that is driving me is I believe Town of Jackson actions impact the county greater than most people are aware of,” she said. “The extensive approval for increased commercial growth is what is ultimately driving our need for affordable housing.”
Lasley said commercial and residential growth threatens to erode the very things that attracted many people to the valley.
“What most people do not take into account is how increased growth and population is affecting our public lands,” she said. “We can’t continue to take tiny little bites and not expect to have the whole thing gone.”
Tim Sullivan is running for a spot on the council for the second consecutive time.According to previous reports, Sullivan, 59, spent 18 years as a building inspector with the Town of Jackson and has lived in the valley for 22 years. Sullivan did not return requests for comment.
Though not a newcomer to town politics by any means, incumbent Abe Tabatabai also shares a concern for affordable housing and would like to continue the current council initiatives if he is elected to a fourth term.
“I have some unfinished chores and projects that I’d like to see through,” said Tabatabai, 55, “I’m proud of my record.”
Tabatabai, who works for Teton County School District No. 1, has spent 12 years on the council. He cited the new parking garage, Center for the Arts building and affordable housing as some accomplishments during his tenure.
“I have been a good custodian of that seat on the bench,” Tabatabai said. “I would like to give it one more try.”
Incumbent Mark Obringer is interested in affordable housing but would like to look at development within the broader context of the comprehensive plan update.
“There is going to be a broad community dialogue and I would like to be a part of it,” Obringer said. “I would like to help lead that dialogue.”
Obringer, 55, said “the number one challenge” facing councilors in the next year is “to continue to have a dialogue with the people in town to make sure what we are reading out of the comp plan is what they are reading and to make sure they are in lockstep.”
If he wins the seat, it will be his fourth consecutive four-year term on the council. He previously served one term on the Jackson Planning Commission.
Despite the outpouring of interest in the town council, no one filed to run against Jackson Mayor Mark Barron.
Barron, 53, announced in April that he will run for re-election to a fourth consecutive term at the helm of the Town of Jackson. Barron, a businessman who owns Blue Spruce Cleaners and High Country Linens, is running on a platform of continuing initiatives that he has helped put in place over the last six years. He listed his five top goals as promoting energy and resource conservation, consolidating town and county government, overseeing the revision of the comprehensive plan, revitalizing the core of Jackson, and preserving “in-town jewels” like Karns Meadow and Flat Creek.