Jackson Hole Mountain Resort wants to increase employee parking for the winter season to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on its workforce and operations. But neighbors question the plan and the proposed site, which has been a source of tension for years.

The idea, the resort’s engineer and planner Bill Schreiber told the Teton County Planning Commission on Nov. 9, came after surveying returning employees.

“One common theme that kept cropping up was there was a pretty large amount of employees that were really, really concerned about riding buses, whether it’s START buses or shuttles from Stilson,” Schreiber said. “There really was a need to try to come up with some more options.”

The Planning Commission meeting where Schreiber presented the resort’s plans came before START and the Teton Village Association, which runs a Stilson-to-Teton Village express shuttle, announced a slate of changes for the winter season. All buses running to the village will be limited to 75% of rider capacity in order to allow for better social distancing. That’s only 30 riders per START bus and 23 riders per Stilson Express Shuttle.

Riders and drivers will be required to wear dry, two-ply masks covering their mouths and noses. Windows will be cracked and buses will be cleaned and disinfected daily.

The resort’s proposal, which received an unanimous nod from the Planning Commission, is to repurpose the area inside 2.72 acres of a Teton Village lot owned by a Resor family company, Four Shadows, LLC. That land has been leased as a construction staging area for 20-some years. Using it for parking would open up 150 parking spaces for the resort, and increase the amount of parking in Teton Village by around 8%, according to an analysis the resort requested from Denver-based transportation planning firm Apex Design. Those spaces would be reserved for employees who carpool with a minimum of three employees per vehicle, and be locked off between 6:30 p.m. and 6 a.m.

The firm’s letter, Senior Planner Andrew Bowen said, “ensures the transportation demand management initiatives of the overall village will not be affected by this use.”

The resort had about 1,900 employees last winter, Schreiber said. This season, it’s trying to prevent lift and restaurant closures like those seen this summer when some employees tested positive.

But neighbors in the Granite Ridge development, due west and uphill from the acreage in question, weren’t thrilled with the proposal.

The Teton County Board of County Commissioners in January approved a permit for the site that allowed Four Shadows to continue leasing the site until Feb. 4, 2021. That was the most recent in a string of approvals that neighbors have fought, arguing that, even though the permits approving the use are temporary — they tended to have two-or-so-year expiration dates — the use, after nearly twenty years, is not. Neighbors managed to elevate their opposition to the Wyoming Supreme Court in 2017, but lost.

The new permit the resort is seeking will require approval from the County Commission due, in part, to a condition the elected board tacked on while greenlighting the soon-to-expire permit. The new permit would allow employee parking until April 10, 2021 and, where the permits overlap temporally, there would only be some overlap in use: a mobile office trailer that would stick around until the first permit expires.

But neighbors see the new proposal as an unnecessary extension of a use that’s already gone on too long.

Though the Planning Commission didn’t explicitly talk about the old permit, Clare Tayback, whose family’s appeal reached the Supreme Court, called it “the elephant in the room.”

The Taybacks’ attorney Mark Sullivan said they were not “putting their foot down and opposing this use,” and instead wanted more information.

“Is it better from a public health perspective to have your employees carpooling together instead of riding the bus?” Sullivan asked. “Is this indeed temporary?

“We’ve been down this road over and over and over again,” he continued. “It smarts every time the Taybacks hear the notion of a temporary use on the site.”

Renee Mathews, who also owns a cabin in Granite Ridge, wondered whether the extra parking would be necessary if the resort’s skier numbers were down.

Schreiber estimated that the number of skiers would be down somewhere from 20 to 25% this season. But he guessed that more people would drive than fly to the resort, which could increase demand for guest parking. He also acknowledged that carpooling rather than riding the bus is by no means a safety guarantee.

“We realize that this is not a panacea. We realize it is not a 100% reduction in risk,” Schreiber said. “It is some reduction in risk.”

Schreiber could not rule out the resort seeking to use the lot as employee parking again in a future winter season. But he acknowledged the neighbors’ concerns, and said he would propose doing “something different” if a similar need arose.

The County Commission will take up the issue at a future meeting.

Contact Billy Arnold at 732-7063 or barnold@jhnewsandguide.com.

Teton County Reporter

Previously the Scene editor, Billy Arnold made the switch to the county beat where he's interested in exploring Teton County as a model for the rest of the West. When he can, he still writes about art, music and whatever else suits his fancy.

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