Opponents of rules requiring developers to build more worker housing acknowledged this week that they were mistaken in claiming no new businesses have applied for licenses since officials approved the increased requirements last summer.
The statement — first made by Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce President Anna Olson at a legislative committee meeting last month — was intended to refer not to business licenses but to commercial construction.
Many new businesses have applied for licenses since July 2018, when the town and county approved new rules for how much housing developers have to build to offset the number of jobs their project will generate.
Even so, the advocacy group Jackson Hole Working repeated Olson’s business license claim in a Guest Shot opinion published Sept. 25 in the News&Guide.
The confusion arose amid debate over the impact of the housing mitigation rates. Essentially, the change last summer made it easier for developers to build residential projects than commercial projects, the goal being to bring the number of homes in the valley into balance with the number of jobs.
Critics say the new rules are too stringent, deterring commercial developers and perhaps even residential developers. Others say that it’s still unclear how the rules will play out and that other factors might be at play.
Olson, as well as members of Jackson Hole Working, relayed her concerns about the mitigation program to the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Interim Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee at its meeting in Jackson in September, when she mistakenly said business license applications had fallen to zero.
She said she plans to correct the record of her comments to the committee.
Still, though, opponents stand by the spirit of their argument. Even if new business licenses have sprouted up over the past year, it’s true that only one person — Cowboy Coffee co-owner Rob Ottaway — has pursued a commercial construction project since the mitigation rates took effect.
Some say that slowdown is due to the now-cumbersome cost of building housing for such projects. Jackson Hole Working is adamant that this is the case, deeming the new requirements a “no-growth tool.”
However, Tyler Sinclair, Jackson’s community development director, argues the drop in commercial construction applications could be in part because so many people with plans to build such projects rushed to apply before officials updated the mitigation rates, creating an “artificial decrease” now that those projects are underway.
“It’s somewhat ironic that we’ve had one of the largest commercial building permit seasons in decades,” he said, “probably because of housing mitigation.”
Overall, he insists it’s too soon to be sure what effect the program will have on development.
But noting again that Jackson has received only one commercial construction permit under the new rules, Olson said it’s crucial that the community track that effect as it begins to reveal itself.
“No one has a rule for how many we should have seen,” she said, “but we’ve seen one in 15 months.
“I think the important thing is we keep looking at that, and if it doesn’t change we should be looking at working on that together to get to the goals of increased housing.”