Part two of a continuing series. — Eds.
Right type of housing. Wrong place.
It’s an argument that has a long history in Jackson, and one that is coming to a head as developers, residents and county planning staff clash over where high-density projects should be built.
“The whole point of our neighborhood objections is it doesn’t belong here,” Jackson Hole Golf and Tennis resident Dorie Schwertz said of the 13-pad RV park proposed as seasonal employee housing adjacent to the resort’s golf course.
Schwertz and more than 100 other homeowners have signed a petition opposing the project. They say they aren’t against employee housing — they know it’s needed. The problem, at least one of them, is the location.
The Golf and Tennis proposal is one of four under appeal at the county, including a proposal to flip the Bar J Chuckwagon acreage from a commercial property to a 69-unit residential development.
Developer David Quinn also has a proposal undergoing appeal, his goal to put 200-plus units in South Park.
While they all have their nuances — some of the appeals have been rooted in environmental concerns, others in community character — the mounting pile of paperwork against residential proposals has started to raise the question: Where can Jackson Hole build more housing?
“The problem, going back years and years and years, has always been ‘great project, wrong place,’” Teton County Long-Range Planner Alex Norton said. “If all these other places were the wrong place, where is the right place?”
It’s a problem the 2012 Jackson/Teton County Comprehensive Plan aimed to solve. The document does offer some guidance, with three areas identified as appropriate for multifamily housing: Teton Village, the Aspens and the town of Jackson, which includes a large swath of land north of South Park.
The town recently launched a rezoning process aimed at incentivizing such development within town limits.
The Comp Plan, and the process of updating regulations to reflect its vision, also signals a notable shift in how development has been approached and approved in the past, something the community is still adjusting to and something that’s sparking some of the development opposition, Norton said.
“I think it’s a bit of a culture shift,” Norton said. “The ’94 culture was that the landowner has more free rein to propose what they want, and the Board of County Commissioners, or the Town Council, would evaluate whether or not that proposal furthers the public vision.
“That also means you’re basically determining the overall questions on a case-by-case basis,” he said.
Today’s direction aims for “more predictability” through a process that first sets policy, then regulations, then allows for development to proceed, Norton said. The biggest hang-up, at least right now, is that the community is only halfway through the transition.
“There’s certainly some strong evidence of resistance to the cultural shift,” he said. “But ultimately everybody, from neighbors to developers, continues to say they want predictability. They just want to know whether or not something can happen.”
The community is also starting to demand action. Last week a crowd of about 100 rallied outside Town Hall, pleading with electeds for housing help.
“On one hand, we as a community are very upset that we are not seeing action right now and results right now,” Norton said. “On the other hand, we constantly run into this problem of ‘I want to see something done, but not right there.’ To a certain extent, if we want to see something done we’ve got to find some level where we’re willing to let someone build something and we’re not going to get in their way.”
That conversation, he said, is primed to be front and center this year as the town rethinks its zoning.
“It will be very instructive in the next year as to whether or not we’re really interested in finding a place for people to build housing,” Norton said. “If we can’t find any place where people are willing to let it happen, then the answer is probably no.”
But it’s also possible that the push could come from the other direction, namely those who need housing and are fed up with road blocks.
“I think what may be changing is there could be some pretty stiff pushback of people saying, ‘Yes in my backyard,’” Town Councilor Jim Stanford said. “That was one of the points of that housing march last week.”
Stanford said it’s “rare that a proposal sails through without any opposition,” but the reasons behind the objections vary, as do the motivations.
“Sometimes a proposed project is an egregious invasion into wildlife habitat,” Stanford said. “Other times, there’s a NIMBY opposition.”
The solutions to the problem are also less clear, according to County Commissioner Natalia Macker. While she has been a supporter of the Jackson Hole Community Housing Trust’s 28-unit, shovel-ready development project in east Jackson, she also been careful to reiterate that “there is no silver bullet.
“I do think it is our role, in terms of zoning, to create opportunities for dense housing in the best locations,” she said, “and that may change over time.
“I also think it’s going to be many different options that help us make progress on providing opportunities for affordable housing,” she said.
“So simply saying dense housing should be in this spot or that spot is neither here nor there,” she said. “That’s not what it takes to get it done.”