One of the most controversial parts of a luxury condo development downtown turned out to be a 3-foot narrowing of the road it shares with St. John’s Episcopal Church.
Dozens of parishioners gathered at Town Hall on Tuesday night out of concern that the project on Glenwood Street would compromise the safety of pedestrians who frequent the church campus.
But elected officials, taking the advice of the town’s experts in street design, unanimously approved the narrowing.
“I don’t think there’s a transportation engineer in the country who’s going to tell you a wider street is safer for pedestrians,” Planning Director Paul Anthony said. “The data doesn’t show that. For the last 20 years there’s been a lot of study on this.”
The counterintuitive idea is based on the fact that narrow streets motivate drivers to slow down, rather than force speeding cars into cramped spaces. They also shorten the distance pedestrians must travel to cross the street.
The issue arose during the public review process for a 28-unit condo project at the corner of Glenwood and Gill Avenue, lately known as the “hole in the ground.” It calls for 18 short-term rental units, six market-rate residential units and five workforce housing units.
Along with the street narrowing, the Town Council also approved the development plan as a whole.
St. John’s members said they support the basics of the project. They’re happy to see something fill the long-unfinished construction site on the corner, even if it will bring more traffic to the area.
What they fear is a worsening of what many already consider a hazardous situation for people driving, parking or walking in the area, especially considering the many organizations that operate on the St. John’s campus and the different kinds of people — including many young, elderly and disabled people — who come and go on a daily basis.
“There’s a huge variety of residents and visitors that come to our campus,” Mary Erickson said. “It’s important to us that we maintain safe access to our campus throughout the year.”
Some parishioners argued that the street should be left alone; others said it should be made a one-way. But planners recommended sticking with the narrowing, and that’s what the council did, with the caveat that those redesigning the street consider other ways to make it safer.
S. R. Mills, of Bear Development, the Wisconsin group proposing the plan, said he could work with either the narrower street or the street as it is.
Another controversial aspect of the development is its implications for two historic buildings at the southern end of the property, originally quarters for the nurses of St. John’s Health back when the hospital stood on Glenwood in the first half of the 20th century.
The Teton County Historic Preservation Board, hoping to save the structures, requested a 90-day stay on the demolition permit. That 90 days is up, but Bear Development won’t demolish until at least spring or summer.
In the meantime, some tenants of the old nurses’ quarters and another affordable home on the site are trying to strike a deal with Bear Development to protect them.
Brigid Mander, who is leading the effort, said parties have made “significant progress on a solution,” including engaging a development consultant and speaking with investors.
“While the exact structure of the deal is something we are still working on,” Mander said, “my advisory team and I feel optimistic that we can build a solution that is a win-win.”