Dick Grieg biked from block to block in his neighborhood, slipping 140 flyers in front doors. The flyers urged neighbors to “support responsible development” ahead of an upcoming town and county meeting on a nearby affordable housing project.
The project proposes to build 12 to 16 units of deed-restricted housing for Teton County workers at 440 W. Kelly. Housing officials say the area has long been slated for more tightly-packed housing, but neighbors say that density threatens the character of the neighborhood.
The town and county purchased the 0.31-acre Kelly Avenue property in January for $1.7 million, and then solicited developers to build a new housing project, asking for a minimum of 15 units. The property is the first experiment in a new town zone, NH-1, created in the summer of 2018 to encourage multifamily workforce housing.
At the request of town and county elected officials, developer groups J. Roller Development and Tack Development drafted two new designs to lessen the impact on the neighborhood, but neighbors say the density is still too much.
“It’s not gonna work here,” neighbor Chris May said. “We have high traffic, and we have wildlife in the neighborhood, and it’s gonna add that many more cars and people and congestion.”
Instead, neighbors are pushing for six to eight townhome-style units.
Tack designer Ruben Caldwell said both redesigns aim to address worries about high density by reducing and breaking up the scale of the building, locating parking in back so that the Kelly-facing facade of the building is all habitable space, and adding a shared roof deck. These elements aim to improve the “streetscape.”
“It allows people to live on the street. It allows neighbors to interact with one another, kids to play in the front yard,” Caldwell said.
The new designs also required shaking up the unit mix. While the original proposal showed 12 one-bedroom units and four 3-bedrooms, the new 16-unit proposal has eight 1-bedroom units and eight 2-bedroom units. The 12-unit plan includes 10 1-bedroom units and two 2-bedrooms.
While the original proposal wouldn’t cost the public additional investment beyond the land, the new 16-unit design requires another $150,000 subsidy from the town and county, and the 12-unit option requires an additional $325,000, the staff report said.
About 20 people attended a June 12 open house to unveil the new designs, Housing Director April Norton said. Most were neighbors who live in the area, and many still pushed for fewer units. Comments scrawled on feedback posters criticized the designs as looking like “a prison” or “a Motel 6.”
Neighbor Perri Stern said a too-dense Kelly project could set a “behemoth precedent” and turn the community against support for affordable housing.
“I think they would be more appropriate for a site in the town core that would accommodate that much mass, that much building,” Stern said.
Grieg added that it’s unrealistic to meet employee housing goals by cramming density into the town and that more density should be allowed in areas of the county, like Munger or the Aspens. He noted the area is earmarked in the comprehensive plan for “predominantly two stories with three stories considered in specific cases with proper design.”
“What is unique about 440 W. Kelly that would warrant a specific case?” Grieg said. “How does that differentiate with any other property in the NH-1 zone? If it applies to 440 W. Kelly, it applies to basically all the properties, that they could be developed that way. Then you have 3-story units everywhere.”
According to the staff report, at least five homes in the neighborhood are up for sale, including a $1.8 million double lot slated for multifamily rental housing.
Norton and the Housing Supply Board are both recommending officials select the new, updated 16-unit option.
The project “represents an incremental approach to housing development that will serve our middle- and higher-income earning working households and takes advantage of new town zoning,” Norton wrote in a staff report.
Town councilors and county commissioners will consider all the design options at a special joint meeting at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday at the county chambers.
— This article has been updated to reflect Ruben Caldwell's title.