After about three years of back and forth between Jackson Hole Golf and Tennis and the resort’s neighbors, county commissioners gave both parties something to work with. But the split decision Tuesday put a plan for employee housing in jeopardy.
Still, a senior executive of the owners, Alex Klein, said that Grand Teton Lodge Company remains “committed to additional housing.”
The housing question remained after a 3-to-2 vote, with Commissioners Greg Epstein and Mark Barron dissenting, that gave Golf and Tennis a partial go-ahead on an application to amend its master plan. The resort now has the green light to build up to 11,000 square feet of housing and install six new, naturally screened RV pads. The vote also approved a 15-foot setback for development along a “remnant” channel of the Gros Ventre River.
The Teton County Board of County Commissioners nixed two other proposed amendments.
One would have permited a cell tower to be built on the Golf and Tennis lot south of Grand Teton National Park. Commissioners wanted any cell tower plans to go through other county channels.
The other amendment would have allowed the resort to use the same parcel to build and share warehouse space with the park’s concessionaire, Grand Teton Lodge Company. Vail Resorts, a multinational mountain resort company, owns Grand Teton Lodge Company, which in turn manages Golf and Tennis. The shared warehouse space would have acted as a hub for both Golf and Tennis and the Lodge Company, which has operations at Jackson Lake Lodge, Colter Bay and other areas in the park.
Commissioners were concerned that a shared warehouse conflicts with county code requiring resorts like Golf and Tennis to be “self-contained.”
Lodge Company Vice President Klein said that Golf and Tennis planned to go ahead with building the RV pads. It has considered space for the vehicles more or less since a drawn out dispute over how the resort was developing the property began in 2016.
But without approval for the warehouse, Klein said the housing was likely a no go. In previous meetings, he had declared the joint warehousing space and accompanying housing units a package deal.
“We felt it was a creative solution that would provide housing for 30 employees, all Teton County employees, while also reducing traffic,” Klein said. “Unfortunately the alternative is that we may need to find another location either inside the park, if the park is amenable to that, or outside the park for warehousing. And that’s going to become the focus of our project. It just doesn’t necessarily come with the benefit of housing.”
For years Golf and Tennis neighbor Joan Anzelmo has headed a coalition of neighbors opposing the resort’s plans, starting with its original proposal to develop 13 RV pads. She said she was not surprised by Golf and Tennis’ decision to possibly forsake construction of additional housing but called on the company to do so.
“I think Vail Resorts, a multinational, multi-billion-dollar corporation, should build some housing for its employees,” Anzelmo said, noting that the company has done so in other states. “If Vail is unwilling to spend two or three or four million dollars to house their own employees, it does not bode well for being a good neighbor to the community and the state of Wyoming.”
Klein, however, said Golf and Tennis — and Vail — remained committed to building housing.
“We proposed a housing project, we’re working with the park on additional housing and we’re committed to additional housing, whether that’s RVs, built housing or renovations on existing housing,” Klein said. “Holistically we want to seek creative solutions that will reduce traffic and provide employee housing.”
According to Teton County planning documents, the resort had already satisfied the county’s housing exaction by building about 5,000 square feet of housing. Construction of the additional units, estimated to be able to house 42 additional employees, would have been voluntary.
With Vail planning to seek warehouse space and employee housing somewhere besides Golf and Tennis, the county’s decision marks the end of three-plus years of drawn out discussions between the resort, neighbors and county officials.
In the end the resort got something close to what it initially proposed: RV sites. Neighbors opposed the 2016 plan for a variety of reasons. Some labeled the proposed RV park an “eyesore.” Anzelmo said it fell in the county’s natural resource overlay and it only provided for seasonal, rather than permanent employee housing.
“We have supported Vail building housing ever since this topic began to be discussed,” Anzelmo said. “Vail resorts needs to build housing for the employees if they want to be successful in conducting business in Teton County.”
The neighbors’ opposition caused a dust up that exposed a couple of procedural snafus on the county’s part and ultimately led Golf and Tennis to propose the master plan amendments considered Tuesday.
Commissioner Mark Barron, who supported the plan in its entirety, opposed the decision to approve housing without approving the warehouse. He advocated allowing Golf and Tennis to bundle the two. Keeping everything together, he said, would have streamlined logistics for the Grand Teton Lodge Company and reduced vehicle miles traveled as well as Teton County’s carbon emissions.
“We’re ever mindful about our carbon footprint and we’re always mindful about greenhouse gas emissions and this [was] the perfect example of doing the right thing on this issue,” Barron said. “I just feel like we had a lost opportunity there.”
Commissioner Luther Propst, who voted for the partial approval, saw it differently. He worried about what would happen if the property changed hands, if, for example, Golf and Tennis sold the resort or the Grand Teton Lodge Company’s contract with the National Park Service wasn’t renewed in 2021. Though the businesses planned to operate the warehouse with a certain footprint, Propst argued it would be difficult to manage the parcel under different owners.
He didn’t see it as a lost opportunity.
“I think that they will look at it more closely, and I think that they will build that housing,” Propst said. “Things go up the corporate ladder, and I think that when they see that’s their option, that’s what they’re going to do. I think that it’s important to them for a pure economic perspective.”