Hoback Junction

Hoback Junction has been ground zero for drinking water pollution issues in Jackson Hole, and dangerous levels of nitrates have been found in several Hoback areas. Water quality issues like those in Hoback have become a central point in the ongoing process of updating the 2012 Jackson/Teton County Comprehensive Plan.

Public comments zeroed in Monday on water quality, northern South Park and a cap on future development as the Jackson Town Council and Teton County Board of County Commissioners began reviewing proposed updates to the 2012 Jackson/Teton County Comprehensive Plan.

The two boards will next visit the draft update on Oct. 13.

The process has been going on for months, after first being delayed by the onset of the global pandemic and then held up as the Jackson Town Council and Teton County Board of County Commissioners argued over language in the document about northern South Park. That’s the area immediately south of Jackson that the Gill and Lockhart families have been eyeing for development.

In recent weeks, the Jackson and Teton County planning commissions have both recommended approval of the comp plan update.

The planning commissions’ recommendations came with a number of changes that could, if approved, kick off efforts to address pollution in the county’s waterways, an issue that’s been front and center in recent weeks. Three advocacy organizations — the Wyoming Outdoor Council, Protect Our Water Jackson Hole and the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance — and a group of town and county officials wrote elected officials separately, urging them to include more water-focused language in the plan. The planning commissions proposed including government staffs’ recommendations in the final plan, including the three advocacy groups’ where their suggestions overlapped.

Brooke Sausser, the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance’s community planning manager, asked for more Monday, calling for a water quality chapter in the document. The comp plan outlines the community’s vision for natural resource and growth management and the like chapter-by-chapter. She asked for the water quality chapter to include its own implementation plan and staffing.

“What’s currently recommended by [the planning commissions], and Teton Conservation District and Public Works doesn’t go far enough,” Sausser said. “It seems to keep us in this state of monitoring and getting our arms around the problem instead of getting ahead of it.”

The planning commissions advised the town and county to create a “community-wide comprehensive water quality enhancement plan” with staffing to implement it.

But Sausser also pivoted toward northern South Park, where the Alliance has argued against the Gill family’s proposal to rezone 74 acres of their property to pave the way for a 300-plus unit housing development.

After that proposal first came up, town councilors and county commissioners argued over who should plan the area. Language that encouraged any entity developing the area to use a tool that allows landowners to increase the allowed density of a subdivision in exchange for conservation of open space elsewhere in the county was dropped from the Comprehensive Plan.

Sausser asked for that to be put back in, painting it as integral to the comp plan’s mission to “preserve and protect” the area’s ecosystem.

Amberley Baker of the Wylie Baker law firm, an attorney who represented the Gill family throughout their rezone application, likewise spoke about northern South Park but did not address Sausser’s comments because she spoke before the Conservation Alliance employee.

Instead, the attorney cautioned against a sentence that states the area “will be zoned and developed consistent with a neighborhood plan.”

The Gills have long been critical of the neighborhood planning effort, arguing that they should be granted the rezone on their land before it is completed. The County Commission voted the rezone down on Sept. 29, opting instead for a neighborhood plan in the area.

The comp plan is a policy document, and instead of promulgating laws, it is a guiding document that planners and elected officials use to create binding land development regulations. Baker said including a specific provision like the one she was concerned about in the comp plan could cause problems.

“In effect, this is a precondition on a zoning decision or a development, and it mandates consistency with the neighborhood plan,” Baker said. “That sentence is problematic legally, and I think would be difficult to apply in practice for each of you.”

She proposed alternative language saying northern South Park “may be guided by a neighborhood planning effort” rather than applying the more forceful language in the current draft.

Susan Johnson, a former Teton County planner and now a private land development consultant who represented the Gills, also spoke up, asking for more discussion and information on the plan’s cap on development. She asked whether that cap could conflict with the community’s need to confront its housing crisis and the comp plan intention to locally house 65% of Teton County workers.

“The reason this is important to discuss now is because we’re also renewing our commitment to house 65% of our workforce,” Johnson said, referencing the metric enshrined in the 2012 plan. “If there’s a conflict, we should decide now as a community, if we need to, which is more important: the overall cap or housing of 65% of our workforce.”

This article has been updated to clarify why Amberley Baker did not address Brooke Sausser's comments. — Eds.

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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