Battle lines have again been drawn in the debate over developing northern South Park.
The Gill family is on one side, looking to clear a regulatory hurdle aimed at paving the way for developing a 26-acre, 84-lot subdivision just south of High School Road.
They argued in public emails to the Teton County Board of County Commissioners that they have a “decades old legal right” to develop there. That’s in part because they plan to move ahead using the “suburban” zoning the parcel has held for decades.
They also questioned the legality of denying or delaying approval of their sketch plan — a conceptual regulatory approval that precedes concrete development and subdivision plans — until a neighborhood plan for the area is complete.
“Any denial, delay or conditional approval ... based on completion of the neighborhood plan would plainly diminish the zoning rights ... on my client’s suburban-zoned property,” Gill attorney Amberley Baker wrote.
The county commission denied the family’s earlier request to rezone 74 acres south of the parcel in question, opting instead to spend $400,000 on a neighborhood planning effort for northern South Park. But development, conservation and housing watchdogs argue that, if the county commission approves the Gills’ sketch plan proposal when they consider it Tuesday, the neighborhood plan could be for naught.
“Prematurely approving this subdivision would impact what else can be achieved in northern South Park,” Brooke Sausser wrote in an email to commissioners. She is the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance’s community planning manager.
“Worst case,” she went on, “it could end with the landowner choosing to only build this simple subdivision, quit the neighborhood plan, and not provide any community benefit such as homes that are affordable to local workers.”
The Conservation Alliance, housing advocacy group Shelter JH, and development watchdog Rich Bloom have all asked the county commission to pump the brakes.
Bloom derided the project as a “second-home subdivision.” He and the Conservation Alliance pointed to a narrative the family submitted in January 2020 that said developing the 26 acres in a similar manner would “produce a housing product that is out of reach for much of the local workforce.”
The Gills were then thinking of packaging their 26-acre and 74-acre parcels into a 100-acre rezone, eyeing a housing development that could have seen up to 488 lots. The 26-acre proposal was later dropped from the rezone application, and the family decided to pursue developing both tracts of land separately.
Clare Stumpf of Shelter JH asked for the Gills to take their plans for developing their 26 acres off the table until the neighborhood plan is complete.
“If they are unwilling,” she added in a public email to the county commission, “we call on you to take action. This would either include denying the sketch plan or imposing a moratorium on development in the area until the completion of the neighborhood plan.”
Baker forcefully pushed back on critics’ suggestions, distinguishing between the 2012 Jackson/Teton County Comprehensive Plan and county and state law.
The Comp Plan, which was recently updated and references the completion of a neighborhood plan for northern South Park, is a vision document that sets a framework for the county to develop laws like land development regulations.
Baker said the regulations are what matter in this situation. Siding with the family’s critics, she said, “would give primacy to the comp plan at the expense of the land development regulations, even though the Wyoming Supreme Court and your own county attorney have made clear that the land development regulations, not the comp plan, are ‘the law.’ ”
The Gills have been participating in the neighborhood planning process so far. Nikki Gill sits on a steering committee charged with assisting the county’s staff and consultant in developing the plan. She has recently supported keeping that group’s meetings public.
Baker appeared to tie the family’s participation in the planning effort to the county’s recognition of its right to develop the 26 acres.
“Any planning must take into account that 26 acres ... are already zoned suburban, rather than assuming that such zoning does not exist,” she wrote.
What would happen if commissioners don’t recognize that is unclear, though Baker later said Gill would continue to participate.
“Ms. Gill has, and will continue to, work diligently on behalf of this community toward an outcome that will hopefully produce meaningful housing for members of our local workforce on rural-zoned land” in northern South Park, she said.
That rural-zoned land is distinct from the suburban-zoned land set to be discussed Tuesday, when the county commission will consider the sketch plan.
The board’s meeting is set to start at 9 a.m. Tuesday, and the public can join to watch or comment over Zoom. The webinar ID is 858 3475 8767, and the dial-in number is 1-669-900-6833.