After the Teton County Board of County Commissioners decided meetings of the citizen group overseeing planning for growth in northern South Park would be public, the issue is back on the board’s Tuesday agenda.

Asked Saturday whether community members should expect discussion about keeping the group’s meetings open, Chairwoman Natalia D. Macker did not provide specifics.

“At this point, I’d say expect discussion on anything,” she wrote in a text.

The steering committee charged with working with staff and the county’s consultant, Opticos Design Inc., on a neighborhood plan for northern South Park met Friday. The public and press were able to watch via Zoom as the seven members spent just over an hour talking about what, exactly, they would be doing.

Doreen Ward emailed commissioners earlier that day encouraging them to keep the meetings open. The alternative, she said, would “make the public more suspicious. Help the public understand what you are doing all along ... so we can be supportive.”

The first item for discussion, which focused on setting protocols and ground rules, was supposed to take 25 minutes. Instead it took up most of the meeting.

Committee members tangled with the fact that they are not being asked to reach consensus or to make recommendations on a final plan. Instead, the conversation highlighted that the steering committee is intended to serve as a “sounding board” for county staff and Opticos as they develop parts of the plan and bring them to the public for review.

At one point, Bill Collins, a former county planning director who is serving on the committee, summarized his impression of the committee’s role:

“It’s not the committee’s purpose to come to an agreement or a disagreement. The purpose of the committee is to just provide a reaction and ... if we are aware of information or are aware of some issue, to make the staff and consultants aware of that ... without angling to come to some kind of a group decision.”

The group also spent time discussing metrics by which to gauge success. Laura Bonich proposed that one of its goals be setting aside housing for the local workforce by recording town and county deed restrictions on the properties in question.

Kelly Lockhart said he would not support that, questioning the legality of the town and county’s deed restrictions.

“The state does not have a statute that provides for it,” he said. “I think that a discussion at the state level would be appropriate. That’s not occurred yet. So I think for us to put something in this plan that may or may not have statutory authority is inappropriate.”

Bonich agreed to strike the idea. She and Collins asked staff to amend the committee’s ground rules document to keep the ball rolling.

By that point, an hour had passed and other agenda items hadn’t been fully addressed. Lockhart and committee member Jennifer Ford worried about that, especially given the plan’s July deadline.

“I do not want to spend three months talking about how we’re going to talk about this,” Ford said.

Brooke Sausser, community planning manager for the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, said in an email that she found the deliberations enlightening. The alliance, along with housing advocacy group Shelter JH, originally lobbied to open steering committee meetings to the public. The first meeting was closed.

“Public meetings can be vigorous,” she said. “This meeting showed where key tensions might lie and opinions differ, and the process and product are improved from having those in the open.”

This article has been updated to correct an error. Kelly Lockhart is the only member of a landowning family in northern South Park who spoke to the legality of the town and county's deed restrictions. Nikki Gill, who is representing her family, did not. — Eds.

Contact Billy Arnold at 732-7063 or barnold@jhnewsandguide.com.

Teton County Reporter

Previously the Scene editor, Billy Arnold made the switch to the county beat where he's interested in exploring Teton County as a model for the rest of the West. When he can, he still writes about art, music and whatever else suits his fancy.

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