Differences of opinion last week on whether the town or county should plan northern South Park underscored why a draft comp plan update is still in legislative limbo, though that may change Monday.
“It sure feels like we’re badly stuck in a rut, badly spinning our wheels and really not going anywhere,” Commissioner Mark Newcomb said during a July 6 town and county meeting.
The Jackson Town Council and the Teton County Board of County Commissioners have been trying since late May to agree on a few paragraphs in a draft update to the 2012 Jackson/Teton County Comprehensive Plan. Those paragraphs zero in on northern South Park, where the Gill and Lockhart families have both proposed large upzones for housing development.
Consensus needed to get a final draft of the town and county’s guiding planning document out to the public for review has so far been elusive.
The comprehensive plan includes nearly 400 pages of guidance on community priorities like housing, transportation and development, and is a metric against which planners and elected officials evaluate decisions. Publishing the draft update and opening a 45-day public comment period before the final document is approved requires at least a 3-2 approval from the council and commission. There has been talk of releasing two separate drafts — one with the county’s vision for northern South Park, and one with the town’s — but no document has been released. Both bodies will revisit the issue Monday.
Commissioner Greg Epstein has largely led the charge, with support from Commissioner Mark Barron, to have the county take the lead on developing a neighborhood plan for northern South Park, which is in the county but adjacent to the town.
The two commissioners were close to being overruled May 25, when the town and county voted on language that would have seen the two bodies plan the area jointly. But Commissioner Luther Propst voted against the plan. Propst was concerned about a separate issue: baking language into the document that favored an east-west connector as a transportation solution in the area.
The commissioners’ three dissenting votes were enough to stop publication of the update.
A week later, commissioners revisited the issue solo and voted unanimously to approve language that removed specific mention of the east-west connector and would see the county take the lead on planning northern South Park “in consultation with the town.”
That kicked the can over to the town council, which was supposed to discuss the planning issue ahead of the July 6 meeting, where the two bodies were supposed to sign off on the update, start the public review period and discuss a work plan for joint projects.
But approval never came.
The town discussion instead showed that Mayor Pete Muldoon, like Epstein, wanted to see one body take the lead on planning — just not the county.
“Given the almost certainty that this will be annexed into the town of Jackson,” he said, “I think it’s important that we lead this process.”
The town has tried to annex northern South Park when the area was slated for development in the past, but those efforts failed. Councilors Arne Jorgensen and Jim Stanford, who has warned about the cost of past town annexations of county land that did get approved, both agreed that annexation was likely. The Gills and Lockharts have not weighed in on the issue.
Stanford and Jorgensen’s opinions were mixed on supporting a town-led process. Stanford said he was not in favor of the “junior partner, little kid brother approach” the county had approved and would prefer to see a joint effort.
“This is the last shot at doing greenfield development and expanding the town of Jackson and changing the complexion of the community and planning for the future,” he said. “Why we wouldn’t do that jointly with a robust process, I don’t know.”
Jorgensen said he would be fine with either the town or county taking the lead, so long as the lead partner took seriously things like zoning, affordability and infrastructure.
“If not, then I think that sets us up for some significant disagreement,” he said.
Muldoon said he was committed to joint planning and that a town-led process could be joint.
The town unanimously approved a motion that did not accept commissioners’ language about the county leading “in consultation with the town.”
At the joint meeting later that day, the council and commission did not compromise. The issue didn’t get much time. Other items consumed most of the meeting and, when planning issues came up, the town and county’s work plan was discussed first, running out the clock.
Councilors argued that approving a work plan with a placeholder for planning northern South Park and getting staff working on items the two bodies agreed on should take precedence.
“We seem to be so sclerotic and stuck on this,” Councilor Jonathan Schechter said. “My feeling personally, and I think I speak for my colleagues, is that we can break off northern South Park.”
The town ultimately did so with its own work plan, including a line item for planning northern South Park that recognized the details would be figured out later.
Commissioners didn’t take the bait, instead calling for a special meeting to finish the planning discussion.
“The goal is not to delay,” Chair Natalia D. Macker said, “but to have some specifically carved out time to go through those details.”
The meeting has been set for 6 p.m. Monday in the Town Council Chambers. Tune into the meeting online at JacksonWY.gov; Click “watch a meeting online” to find the link.