Rep. Shelly Duncan

Rep. Shelly Duncan, R-Goshen, introduced House Bill 277 that would have gutted Jackson’s affordable housing program.

The Jackson Town Council has unanimously approved a letter asking state lawmakers to respect local control over affordable housing policy, but it wants other local groups to sign on before it is sent.

“While the housing exaction rates should and will be updated, our community firmly believes in local control, that we should continue to have access to the tool, and that Teton County residents should retain the right to decide for ourselves what those rates should be,” the letter states. “Therefore, we respectfully request that you honor Teton County voters’ desire to make local decisions locally.”

Last month the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Interim Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee met at Teton County Library. Jackson was selected for the meeting following heated debates about local control during the last session, including a failed bill introduced by Rep. Shelly Duncan, R-Goshen, that would have gutted Jackson’s affordable housing program.

House Bill 277 sought to prohibit towns and counties from requiring developers to build or pay for employee housing to offset the impact of jobs generated by their new development. Following public meetings the town and county approved new — and controversial — housing exaction rules in July 2018, upping the requirements for how much developers, especially commercial developers, must pay toward housing when building a new project.

House Bill 277 wasn’t on the state committee’s agenda for its Jackson meeting. But as the lawmakers wrapped up their meeting at the library, Duncan asked the committee to revive the bill. Members voted to bring the bill back for consideration at a November meeting in Cheyenne, with a single “no” vote from Rep. Andi Clifford, D-Fremont.

Duncan cited “testimony” from a lunch with advocacy group Jackson Hole Working as a reason for bringing back the bill. Jackson Hole Working told the News&Guide the group hasn’t taken a formal position on any bill at this time, but did say “we support many aspects of HB277 and believe strongly in incentive-based tools that this bill actively encourages.”

The letter drafted by the town wasn’t happy about presenting a similar bill.

“This bill would remove an important tool (exactions used to mitigate housing impacts) that has been utilized by our community since 1995, and which has been instrumental in enabling us to ensure we have a local workforce that can support our local economy,” the letter said. “While there continues to be a robust community debate regarding the optimal housing exaction rates, we are united in our belief that those rates should be determined here locally.”

Town councilors said they hope the Teton County Board of County Commissioners, plus other groups like the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce and Jackson Hole Working, will consider signing the letter. Councilor Jonathan Schechter even said he’d be reluctant to send it without the backing of other local groups.

At a joint meeting Nov. 4 the town and county elected bodies plan to discuss the letter and coordinate testimony planned for the interim legislative committee’s Nov. 18 meeting in Cheyenne. The bill regarding town and county housing regulations is on the agenda.

“I think we want to be careful and coordinated with who’s testifying, who’s saying what,” Councilor Arne Jorgensen said. “Let’s get our act together and make sure we’re all on the same page.”

Both the town and county have cancelled regularly scheduled meetings in November to allow officials and members of the public to travel to Cheyenne to testify at the committee meeting.

Contact Allie Gross at 732-7063 or county@jhnewsandguide.com.

Allie Gross covers Teton County government. Originally from the Chicago area, she joined the News&Guide in 2017 after studying politics and Spanish at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

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