In a service bay at Auto Detail of Jackson Hole, where an air compressor occasionally interrupted the conversation, some two dozen skeptical business owners met with town officials on a recent night to gauge how a proposed Gregory Lane remodel would impact their livelihoods.
The answer? Unclear.
With a vote to allocate $8.5 million to the project coming up in less than two weeks, many who own the properties abutting the road were struck by the first two words on the ballot item, which explains part of what the specific purpose excise tax money would fund: “acquiring property.”
“People are concerned about losing their space,” said Brian Hasenack, who owns Intermountain Roofing, at the meeting Wednesday. “We’re all working on a postage stamp, every one of us.”
Many of the businesses along Gregory Lane — which runs through the industrial park near the town of Jackson’s south boundary — are pushed right up against the road, often using the meager area in between for their operations. If the road is expanded, with a curb, gutter and sidewalk, they fear it will cut into that space.
“There’s not a lot of room down here,” said Aaron Ackley, who owns Auto Detail and hosted the meeting.
The upgrades would replace a deteriorating sewer line; bring stormwater treatment to the area for the first time, preventing harmful substances from entering Flat Creek; and make the roadway safer and more accessible for pedestrians.
A trio of town officials tried to assuage the business owners’ worries, saying that despite the wording on the ballot, they were confident they could fit the new construction within the 40-foot right-of-way that already belongs to the town. That assurance put some owners at ease.
“It’s not like we’re trying to spring some kind of secret plan for taking people’s property,” Town Councilor Jim Stanford told the crowd.
But that 40 feet may overlap with the land that many businesses, though they don’t actually own it, have used as de facto private property, in some cases for decades.
The distance it extends into each business’s operating space varies, and not all owners knew at the time exactly where their property lines meet the right-of-way. But at the end of the day, said Johnny Ziem, assistant public works director, “the public right-of-way is owned by over 10,000 people.”
The business owners are generally on board with the sewer and stormwater upgrades, but they’re wary of how far the road will have to expand to add a sidewalk. Perhaps more than anything, they complain that they haven’t seen concrete plans for the project and therefore simply don’t know what to expect.
Stanford said that’s because what the town has right now are only rough ideas that allowed them to calculate costs ahead of the SPET election. They don’t yet have an exact design for the road and sidewalk.
“We’re a long ways from answering all the questions you have,” he said. “I’m here just to ask for your help.”
The town officials said they want to include the property owners in the planning process for the project, which likely won’t get underway for another couple of years at the earliest. In the interim, Ziem said, there will be plenty of time for neighborhood input.
“You guys have perspective that we don’t have,” he said. “You guys know all the nuances of this whole area.”
Bison Lumber owner Todd Scholtens, in particular, has some ideas.
According to the Teton County School District, about 100 children live in the area, and many walk to school along Gregory Lane.
Scholtens, whose office window looks out upon the road, disputes those figures, though he acknowledged that some children do use it. But, he argued, it makes little sense to adapt an industrial park to pedestrian usage, considering heavy machinery and large vehicles will continue to operate there. Better to reroute the foot traffic altogether, he said, perhaps along a path that leads directly from the Gregory Lane housing to the school grounds.
Town officials weren’t necessarily opposed to that idea, though it would likely require negotiations with property owners and the school district.