Jackson Hole, WY News

105 Mercill

The right half of the property is the Mercill site where new employee housing and commercial space will be built. The left side is Children’s Learning Center.

Teton County is preparing to crank out several affordable housing projects in town, the latest in the cooker being a 22-unit complex on Mercill Avenue.

Under a new development model the Jackson/Teton County Affordable Housing Department buys land and then requests proposals from private developers to build worker housing. The town and county maintain ownership of the land while the developer owns improvements and rents or sells the units, ultimately sharing project risk.

It’s the model the town of Jackson first employed for housing at 174 N. King St. Of four proposals the Town Council selected a developer committed to providing 30 one- and two-bedroom apartments for the valley’s lowest income-earners. Earlier this month the affordable housing department released a request for proposals, RFP in county or development lingo, seeking someone to build at least 15 units on property where a single-family home now sits at 440 W. Kelly.

Now county commissioners are considering the project parameters they’ll request of developers for 105 Mercill Ave.

The Mercill site is adjacent to the Children’s Learning Center, near schools, parks and a START bus stop. Zoning allows for up to three stories and aims for “a vibrant, mixed-use” area combining retail, office, lodging and residential uses.

Under a draft RFP the project may include any mix of affordable units, which are restricted based on income, and workforce units, reserved for full-time Teton County workers regardless of earnings. Five units would be reserved for county employees.

All units would be sold, rather than rented, a response to an expected influx of rentals in the coming years. The housing department anticipates 90 percent of the units being completed in the next two years will be rentals, Housing Director April Norton said.

Norton said she and the Housing Supply Board recommend requiring mixed-use ground floor nonresidential and 100 percent deed-restricted housing upstairs.

“This is a mixed-use district,” Norton said. “It is a transition zone from our downtown core to our neighborhoods. It is a place where we have said we want to see mixed-use development.”

However, county commissioners have indicated they’re interested in leaving options more open, allowing developers to build some market-rate housing. Should market-rate residential gain approval, Norton said she’d like to limit the square footage relative to the affordable units.

“I’d hate to see us get 22 efficiencies with some four-bedroom large market units,” Norton said.

A 22-unit complex also requires about 33 parking spaces, a condition that requires a lot of room. Norton pitched sharing parking spaces with the Children’s Learning Center next door, but the day care hasn’t warmed to the idea.

Commissioner Luther Propst said he’d like to see pooled parking explored further.

“I think it would be ideal if we move forward with this after we have more clarity around the parking,” Propst said. “If that question’s unresolved, it means there’s a huge variation in what we’re going to see in an RFP.”

Log cabins on the Mercill site have also been a topic of discussion, as a few of the structures — used by the Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum for storage and educational programming — have historical significance, said Morgan Jaouen, the museum’s executive director.

Representatives of the museum, the county and the Historic Preservation Board have been studying how to relocate the structures before the anticipated 2020 groundbreaking.

Norton will bring a final draft RFP before Teton County commissioners on March 5.

Contact Allie Gross at 732-7063, county@jhnewsandguide.com or @JHNGcounty.

Allie Gross covers Teton County government. Originally from the Chicago area, she joined the News&Guide in 2017 after studying politics and Spanish at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

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