The school is open. The sewer line has been laid. The highway to town has expanded to five lanes.
Those ingredients add up to make the Hog Island ideal for a new neighborhood for workforce housing, a developer says.
Larry Huhn, a 40-year resident, has developed housing at Old West Cabins south of town and owns the Hoback Market. He has a vision to build 125 to 200 units of workforce housing on 84 acres in Hog Island next to Munger Mountain Elementary School.
“Our goal is to supply the community with housing options that help average working-class families,” Huhn said in a statement.
The proposal gets to the heart of conflicting goals in the Jackson/Teton County Comprehensive plan, which calls for restricting growth and development to the town rather than outlying areas of the county, but also sets an ambitious goal to house 65 percent of the workforce locally.
Huhn argues that it’s a false dichotomy and that the community can have it all.
“I really believe that there are ways to do ‘both, and,’” he said. “To provide more housing for families and protect our community character. That is why we are starting with conversation, and not with rigid approaches.”
Huhn and his planning team have made it clear that public dialogue about the future of the Hog Island is a priority. Huhn said he wants to hear the opinions, concerns and questions from all residents to help shape the proposal.
“In this world where no one seems to get along anymore we want to get back to basic good manners and talking to each other,” Huhn said. “We’ll learn a lot, and we’ll see if the community still prioritizes people and place. I think it does, but let’s have the conversation.”
The public is invited to an open house Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. at The Lodge at Jackson Hole Conference Center. The discussion will include a presentation on the project’s vision and time for questions.
Under the terms of the Comprehensive Plan the Hog Island region is defined primarily by its industrial character.
But that changed when Teton County School District No. 1 purchased 20 acres in Hog Island in late 2015 for a new school to relieve elementary overcrowding. Munger Mountain Elementary School opened last fall.
The new school enhances “the neighborhood’s appropriateness for workforce housing,” according to the developer’s application to change the comp plan.
At the time, the district’s choice for the school location drew criticism from community members who argued a school didn’t belong so far from the town. Before the school was built critics warned of increased traffic because kids would no longer be able to walk or bike to school. Also, there’s no START bus stop.
“It’s disappointing the school district chose a site that does not align with our community’s Comprehensive Plan and will pose transportation challenges for both the district and many parents,” former Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance Director Craig Benjamin said in 2016.
Former state Rep. Pete Jorgensen, D-Teton, decried the school location and the need for a sewer extension as “de facto upzoning to permit not only a large school but also eventual town densities.”
The school’s location required construction of a new sewer line to hook up with the town of Jackson’s waste management system. The sewer’s size quickly became a proxy for a broader debate: whether there was an appetite for growth at Hog Island.
Due to worries that a 6-inch sewer main — able to support an extra 300 homes in the region — would open up growth south of town, the Town Council initially settled on 4 inches, only to reverse the decision months later.
Now that 6-inch sewer is in the ground.
The team behind the latest Munger housing proposal recognizes that an amendment to the comp plan is needed to land workforce housing at Munger. It filed an application Jan. 25 to amend the 2012 plan.
The application makes the case that the new school, sewer line and highway expansion have changed Hog Island’s character and the Comprehensive Plan needs to be updated to reflect that.
Skye Schell, executive director of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, said the group hasn’t taken a stance on the proposal. But he’s cautious about adding density in the county before giving updated town zoning, which emphasizes adding workforce housing density in town, a chance.
“The comp plan says, ‘Let’s try to do it in town first,’” he said.
Schell favors a “holistic” look at progress on the Comprehensive Plan before jumping into a specific proposal.
“My hope is we can have those bigger picture conversations, but certainly the intent I’ve heard from the project team of trying to balance housing we need with other community values in the comp plan, that all sounds good,” Schell said.
For Teton County Commissioner Luther Propst, the siting of Munger Mountain Elementary down south was a “terrible land use decision,” but he accepts that it’s now a reality. The Comprehensive Plan calls for continual modification, he said, and because the school’s location has changed the circumstances in Hog Island, the area should be at the top of the county’s priority list for rethinking zoning and housing.
“The Comprehensive Plan has been superseded by circumstances that were beyond the county’s control,” Propst said.
He said any housing must be accompanied by some sort of “transportation center.”
Propst said the community must consider whether a new residential workforce neighborhood is a priority.
It will also have to consider whether increasing density in part of the county like Hog Island means development potential elsewhere should be decreased, he said.
County Commissioner Mark Barron said the county has to pull its weight when it comes to housing density, rather than relying on only the town to absorb thousands of units of residential density from the county’s rural areas.
“I just don’t think that was realistic,” he said.
He sees the Munger Mountain area or northern South Park as two feasible locations.
“I strongly favor the county zoning for another residential neighborhood,” Barron said. “I don’t see us making a meaningful dent in housing for the people that we say we want to have living in our community.”
The proposed neighborhood is the second-ever amendment to the Comprehensive Plan. The first allowed construction of the Hidden Hollow housing complex on former U.S. Forest Service land.
The Board of County Commissioners and the Jackson Town Council were already slated to revisit the Comprehensive Plan, including the changing nature of Hog Island, in 2019. The application for the amendment was required to be filed by Jan. 25 to allow officials to consider the proposed comp plan amendment in conjunction with a broader review of trends and whether policy updates need to be made, said Associate Long-range Planner Regan Kohlhardt.
“The idea behind that is that an amendment isn’t evaluated in a vacuum,” Kohlhardt said. “It is at least looked at in context, as it relates to how we’re doing in meeting our community goals.”
Comprehensive Plan adjustments require approval by both the town and county. Elected officials will discuss the proposal at a joint retreat March 4.
Then, Kohlhardt said, the amendment will see a vote by the town and county planning commissions on March 7 and by elected officials in April.