A rendering of the recently approved Sagebrush as seen from West Broadway.

The Sagebrush experiment begins now.

On Tuesday night the Jackson Town Council approved a sketch plan for the 90-unit housing development at 550 W. Broadway known as the Sagebrush Apartments. Having created a new formula to incentivize the private sector to build affordable housing, the development will serve as a benchmark for future developments.

“I think it’s historic,” said Christine Walker, the former director of Teton County Housing Authority who is consulting on the project with Navigate LCC. “It’s really a change of direction for our community in a positive way. It’s going to make a huge difference.”

While several developers have gone before the council in past seeking exemptions for their specific projects in order to build denser developments, Joe Rice and John Shelton, the developers of the Sagebrush Apartments, took a different route. They sought text amendments to the town land development regulations so they could have ample time to debate the issues with the council and, if successful, blaze a path similar projects could follow.

“I commend the applicant and appreciate bringing this sort of project and text amendments forward,” Councilwoman Hailey Morton Levinson said shortly after approving the project. “This is exactly the type of project that we discussed in our housing supply plan and I hope, by approving this project, we pave the way for more like it.”

The most notable amendment brought about by Shelton and Rice was to exempt apartment complexes that met specific design guidelines and contained 20 or more units from the affordable housing requirement mandating 25 percent of the base floor area be deed restricted by income.

They said deed restrictions greatly limited their ability to finance a project, but if the units were designed as small one- and two-bedroom units and were densely packed together without the ability to be rented short-term, the units become “inherently affordable” as second-home buyers lose interest. They said that would limit the market and make deed restrictions superfluous.

The example they used was the Blair Place Apartments. Despite having no deed restrictions Blair Place is occupied almost entirely by the workforce and remains affordable to the median income in Teton County.

As a safety net the council stipulated that if any unit within a development taking advantage of the exemption converted to condominiums the affordable housing requirement would be reinstated.

The second amendment Rice and Shelton sought was to eliminate indoor corridors and staircases from the floor area calculation if a development was larger than 10 units, allowing developers to build more habitable space.

With both amendments in place, Rice and Shelton’s final step was to go before the council and request new zoning for the property using a development tool known as a planned unit development, or PUD.

Approved on Tuesday, the PUD changed the zoning from Commercial Residential 2 to Urban Residential Planned Unit Development. That gave Rice and Shelton breaks from setbacks and parking, as well as a fourth story and additional floor area.

As part of the PUD process the applicant had an option to request alternative thresholds for development review. For this PUD Rice and Shelton requested an alternative review process that would consist of a sketch plan, followed by a staff-level review of the final design and finally a building permit consistent with both reviews.

With Tuesday’s approval of the sketch plan the Sagebrush Apartments will not come before the council again for final approval. Instead the final development plan will be reviewed and either approved or denied by town staff.

“I’ve been skeptical at times throughout the discussion about some of the concessions the public and council has made to make this project happen,” Councilman Jim Stanford said. “Despite those reservations I’m going to set them aside because I’m going to trust our staff. I think the public benefit outweighs any concerns that I have.”

As planned the apartment building is 48 feet tall and four stories. The floor area allowed by the fourth story is deed-restricted for workforce housing, making 35 percent of the project workforce deed-restricted.

The project also has 103 5-by-8-foot storage lockers, 52 outdoor bike parking spaces, a large outdoor patio in the back of the building facing Flat Creek and gravel access areas on the banks of Flat Creek. In addition, it has an 8-foot-wide pathway connection that would connect the West Broadway cycle track and sidewalk with the future Karns Meadow pathway.

However, the plan calls for only 92 parking spaces for the 110-bedroom development. While the property will be managed 24 hours a day in part to resolve parking issues, that became a key point of contention.

Ultimately the council decided it would use the development as a test to see if a development with limited parking but good access to public transportation can get its residents out of their cars.

“I think we all know we can’t solve either our traffic or housing issues if we continue not only encouraging but also requiring there are as many spaces for vehicles as people,” Mayor Pete Muldoon said. “We’ve got to provide some benefit for a family moving from two cars to one, that person moving from one car to none, and I think a big benefit of that is having housing. I’m hoping this will at least give us some information and maybe help show us the way.”

If the parking plan doesn’t work, as one of 17 conditions of approval the council reserved the right to review the parking management study and request more parking.

Further conditions include creating a lighting plan, improving pedestrian access, maintaining a 25-foot buffer zone between the development and Flat Creek and building a screen to block view of the parking lot from West Broadway.

With approval from the Town Council, Rice, Shelton and Walker are ready to begin working out the final details of the development plan and hope to break ground as early as September.

“This is a moonshot,” Councilman Don Frank said. “It’s 90 units in the right place. Healthy communities need to share in the burden of meeting community needs and sometimes it’s painful. Sometime you can’t get it perfect. But in this case we’ve got wise community citizens willing to take a huge risk to deliver an incredibly important opportunity for our friends and neighbors. I’m proud of the community and the developers.”

Contact John Spina at 732-5911, or @JHNGtown.

Cody Cottier covers town and state government. He grew up with a view of the Olympic Mountains, and after graduating Washington State University he traded it for a view of the Tetons. Odds are the mountains are where you’ll find him when not on deadline.

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