Jackson town councilors agreed Monday to allow a Marriott hotel to be built with a visible fourth floor, a decision that goes against zoning rules but that councilors said will allow a better hotel.
The majority of councilors agreed with those working on the project, who said bringing the top story closer to the street will benefit the neighborhood.
The portions of the hotel that will be the tallest — parts of condominiums and two staircases — should be closer to the street so guests can exit to sidewalks in front of the hotel rather than the alley behind it, said Matt Thackray, project manager for Carney Logan Burke Architects.
Councilors generally agreed with his take on the 121-room hotel, which will be built on a 1-acre lot across from the town parking garage, on the south side of Simpson Avenue between Glenwood Street and Milward Street.
“The adjustments they have made, though they don’t fall in alignment with the master plan, I think it makes for a better project,” Mayor Mark Barron said at the meeting Monday.
Four-story buildings have long been a hot topic in town. The Jackson/Teton County Comprehensive Plan doesn’t allow buildings that tall. But the special planning tool that was approved more than a decade ago for the hotel property allowed four stories.
Setback was aesthetic
When the council agreed last year to extend the life of the tool — known as a planned mixed-use development, or PMUD — one of the conditions was that the fourth floor not be visible from the street. The goal was to reduce a feeling of crowding
Those working on the project brought forward plans that didn’t meet that condition. Town planners recommended against allowing the visible fourth floor, saying it would be contrary to the community’s character and the Jackson/Teton County Comprehensive Plan.
Councilor Jim Stanford was the lone elected official to vote against the proposal Monday.
“We extended this generosity a year ago and said you just have to adhere to the comp plan,” Stanford said. “I’m comfortable with staff’s recommendation, and I’m a little perturbed that a year after the ground rules were spelled out here we are back in this situation.”
The council needs to send the message that “the rules are the rules, and don’t just come back looking for a little bit more every time,” he said.
Other elected officials supported the plan.
Councilor Don Frank said the town’s planning and zoning commission and the design review committee both supported the visible fourth floor request.
“I’m sensitive to concerns about bulk and scale,” he said, “but I also note that both the DRC and planning commission have approved this appearance, that medley of size and shapes, depth and setbacks.
“I don’t think they are life-and- death decisions,” he said. “I think this hotel is beautifully wrought.”
Barron said there are “extraordinary public benefits” to the hotel.
“This design results in a better flow for customers loading and unloading from the street versus the alley,” he said. “Putting this hotel in this particular area demonstrates a great conservation of energy and allows walkability in our downtown area.”
Not everyone agrees
The hotel is being undertaken as a joint endeavor by PEG Development, a group out of Provo, Utah, and ScanlanKemperBard Companies LLC. The hotel would be a Spring Hill Suites, a brand under Marriott.
The land is owned by Jay Varley. The proposal also includes a 3,000-square-foot restaurant.
Four people spoke during public comment with concerns about the additional allowances.
“A year ago the applicant came to us under a tight deadline,” said Armond Acri, executive director of Save Historic Jackson Hole. “The permit was going to expire, and [they] agreed to these conditions.
“It seems now they’re coming back saying, ‘Well we can’t keep our promise anymore,’” Acri said. “That’s disturbing.”
Valley resident Jeff Springett had a similar take.
“It’s a slippery slope,” he said. “It seems like it was very clear. Now it’s being totally manipulated. Where are we going to hold the line?”
Others spoke about existing buildings that would be displaced by the hotel. The project will require the removal of two single-family units, five trailer homes, four apartments and 29 rooms of the Western Motel, according to town staff reports.
The staff report stated that the new hotel will more than meet its employee housing requirement, which covers the workers that will be needed to staff the development.
The vote was 4-1 to approve the final plan and fourth-floor allowance, with only Stanford voting no both times.
The vote was unanimous for a conditional-use permit that allows a dormitory to be built as part of the development.
The developer now must obtain a building permit by mid-March. Within 60 days of the permit’s approval, construction has to begin “with continuous progress to completion,” according to staff reports.