The hospital board is not a monolith when it comes to northern South Park.
Three of the seven members of the St. John’s Health Board of Trustees voted Thursday against a motion that saw the board request a strategy for housing employees in the next six weeks so the results could inform neighborhood planning in the area, though the motion passed with the majority of the board in favor.
The vote, marred by technical difficulties, came after an executive session in which the board apparently discussed a real estate deal, housing and the Gill family’s proposal to develop about 300 lots in northern South Park.
The family has touted the hospital’s housing needs as a reason for moving ahead with the controversial development, though St. John’s and the family had not reached a formal agreement by Monday, when CEO Paul Beaupre laid out for the Teton County Planning Commission the hospital’s need for 160 units of housing in the next few years.
Board members who supported Thursday’s motion said it was strictly focused on the pending neighborhood planning process in northern South Park, but other trustees said it appeared to signal support for the Gills’ proposal.
“The final recommendation will be used to provide input to Teton County and others as they develop their neighborhood plans,” Board Chair Cynthia Hogan said during the Thursday meeting, reading the motion. “We urge our county commissioners to accelerate the development of the northern South Park plan as a high priority to our community.”
Trustee Joe Albright thought the language was too loose. He called for an amendment striking the sentence urging action from the County Commission, launching into a story about seeking advice from the late Ralph Gill when he was appointed to the board.
“What I took from that meeting with Ralph is that I better be darn sure I was careful that I took the time to understand an issue before I had to decide anything,” Albright said, “and I’m guessing that if Ralph was on our board right now, he would want to know all the ins and outs of the northern South Park proposal and its effect on the hospital before he signed up for it.”
“Therefore,” he said, “I think it’s premature to urge the county to do something which could be interpreted as approving the Gill proposal at this time.”
Other members of the board pushed back, saying the motion was not, in fact, about support of the Gill family’s proposal to develop housing in northern South Park.
“I believe that we’re asking for acceleration of a process that should take place,” Trustee Sue Critzer said. “We’re not trying to usurp it or support a particular development plan that has been put in front of the commission. So my vote is in favor of encouraging to go through the neighborhood plan in an expedient fashion.”
Sixty-five percent of the lots the Gills are eyeing would be deed restricted in some way for the local workforce, according to a covenant recorded on the property, and 30 or 40 would be gifted to Habitat for Humanity of the Greater Teton Area.
Community members have pushed back against the proposal, questioning how affordable the homes would be if built. The Planning Commission and Teton County Planning Director Chris Neubecker have both advised the Teton County Board of County Commissioners to deny the Gills’ application to rezone 74 acres of the Jackson Hole Hereford Ranch, arguing for neighborhood planning before rezones.
No other board member seconded Albright’s proposal — amending the motion to drop the last sentence urging the County Commission’s action — so it failed. Albright voted against the motion, saying he supported the development of the housing strategy.
Four members of the board then voted in favor of the motion, so it passed. Technical issues caused the board to move on before Trustees Mike Tennican and Bruce Hayse weighed in.
When Hayse got back on the line, he, like Albright, appeared to conflate the motion the hospital board passed with the Gill proposal.
“The thing that really disappoints me today about our lengthy discussion of the proposal today, there was not a mention of any type of compliance with the county Comprehensive Plan, there was no mention of what any kind of housing development might mean for the valley as a whole,” Hayse said. “I understand that the board is dedicated to helping the hospital, but I’m really disappointed that there’s no bigger perspective.”
Tennican also voted against the proposal, but did so digitally after the connection broke down and didn’t expand on his reasoning.