Stilson may be getting a makeover.
With the federal government set to grant Teton County roughly $5.6 million for constructing a new transit center in the West Bank parking area, the Teton County Board of County Commissioners and Jackson Hole Mountain Resort started to talk in a mid-March workshop about what Stilson could look like a few years down the road.
Discussions are in their infancy, but if what was discussed comes to pass, what is now a heavily used gravel parking area could become substantially more developed. Paved parking lots, developed ball fields, grass sports fields, retail space, childcare facilities and housing development are all on the table.
Plans could include changing the Stilson lots’ property lines and realigning a Teton County Scenic Preserve Trust-administered conservation easement. The County Commission is for all intents and purposes the Scenic Preserve Trust, and the resort has proposed altering the easement while maintaining its overall acreage as a way to make room for future improvements on the lot.
Amid all those possible changes, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort President Mary Kate Buckley said at the workshop that enhancing the valley’s transportation is the resort’s primary goal.
“Really, the objective is to take cars off the road and enable improved public transportation,” she said, explaining that the resort’s interest in new Stilson housing is related.
“As we look at other developments and other communities,” she said, “housing employees very close to transit stops really helps to remove cars from the road.”
The Stilson lot is a fixture in Jackson Hole. It’s at the center of the West Bank pathway network and a place where visitors and locals alike park to ride the bus to and from the resort. That’s been especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic, when longer bus rides from town could mean more health risk for passengers.
The impetus to replan is the county’s successful application to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s 2020 BUILD — or Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development — Transportation Discretionary Grant program.
Along with a slew of other partners in the greater Teton area, Teton County and Jackson Hole Mountain Resort won the $5.6 million towards improving the Stilson lot, and another $15 or so million for other projects. The Stilson funds are reserved for building a transit center, which will likely be a covered hub for public transportation with bathrooms, bike lockers, covered bike parking and such.
The county and resort have more or less agreed to the transit center, and the two entities will now have to decide what other elements to include in a reimagined Stilson.
What will be included will be informed in part by whether — and how — the Scenic Preserve Trust easement on one of the lots is reconfigured. Roughly 50 acres are in play.
Teton County owns 8.5 of those acres, which it received in 1996 as it approved the resort’s master plan. The idea has been to use that area for ball fields and the like, but no related physical development has occurred.
The resort owns the rest of the Stilson land, where the existing parking areas cover about 15 acres. The remainder of the resort’s property spans about 26.5 acres surrounding the parking areas and county-owned land. The Scenic Preserve Trust easement on that acreage limits development with the goal of preserving scenery, open space and wildlife corridors.
The BUILD Grant-funded transit center could lead the county and resort to change those boundaries, leaving Teton County with more land than it has now. The reason is a land transfer approved in the grant application, under which the resort agreed to “convey” 5.7 acres valued at $3.1 million to the county for the transit center.
The conceptual plan for the transit center and accompanying redesigned parking lots could encroach on the Scenic Preserve Trust easement, and proposed byways connecting the transit hub to Highway 22 could take up space on the county’s existing 8-or-so acre lot.
As such, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort has proposed altering the easement by trimming 3.5 acres of protected turf from the encumbered 26 acres, and in turn conserving a similarly-sized portion of land it owns directly across Stilson Ranch Road to the north.
“It’s going to really limit the things that we can do down there,” the resort’s Director of Planning and Engineering Bill Schreiber said of the existing easement. “So we’ve applied to the county to actually modify that easement and, as part of that, we wanted to move part of the easement to some property that we purchased pretty much specifically for this reason.”
County Commissioners and resort officials agreed that figuring out where easement lines will fall should be the first step in replanning the area.
The commission, acting as the Scenic Preserve Trust, is set to review the proposed easement adjustment April 20.
Next up will be nailing down what uses the two parties will want to see on the land.
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s priorities include paving the lots and using the area for retail — like a small bike shop — a storage facility, employee housing and daycare.
Steve Ashworth, director of Teton County/Jackson Parks and Recreation, said county staff would like to prioritize building three softball fields, tennis and pickleball courts, and related amenities. Ashworth shared Schreiber’s interest in a storage space, specifically to store a West Bank groomer, and said the county could also use space for a permanent community recycling site on the West Bank.
He also suggested using some of the Preserve Trust land for open, grassy athletic fields if the resort, which owns those lots, consents. Building structures and significant grading on that land is not allowed, he said.
“But we can level the surface, irrigate and provide turf,” Ashworth said. “If there’s an opportunity or an ability to do that, we would love to explore what those options might be.”
Commissioners did not say what amenities they’d like on the property and should figure that out in subsequent workshops.
But Commissioner Mark Barron worried about making the area more of an attraction.
“I have a concern that if we make an athletic field Mecca here, then we’re going to compound transportation, compound congestion on 22 and 390,” he said. “For me it seems like all the transit stuff — the parking, the pathways conductivity — are givens. We have to make some decisions about daycare, employee housing, and the athletic fields.”
Commissioner Mark Newcomb wondered whether the Scenic Preserve Trust easement that Jackson Hole Mountain Resort proposed moving across the street could be expanded to 7 acres — essentially increasing the easement area by double what the resort was proposing to transfer.
“It’s really valuable habitat at a valuable location for wildlife to cross 390, and it might help create a corridor to bring them around some of the other development,” Newcomb said, asking whether the county could partner with the resort to make that happen.
The goal as it stands is to complete the master plan and 5.7 acre land transfer for the transit center by late 2021 or early 2022. Construction on the hub is slated to begin in 2023.
When construction could start on the rest of the amenities the resort and county are eyeing remains to be seen.
Ashworth said the Wyoming Department of Transportation has requested to use the county’s existing 8 or so acres for staging as it rebuilds the Highway 22-390 intersection, which could be completed in spring 2025.
Construction on the county’s 8 acres could begin after that, putting the earliest completion date for the whole project in 2026.