Setting aside long standing differences, the town and county reached a compromise Monday and formally kicked off a neighborhood planning initiative in northern South Park.
The town and county have debated how the plan would work for months, wrapping the conversation up into a draft update of the 2012 Jackson/Teton County Comprehensive Plan. While Commissioner Greg Epstein has led the charge to have the county take the lead on planning northern South Park, which is in the county but adjacent to the town, Mayor Pete Muldoon has been vocal about his desire to see the town take the lead.
But on Monday, Muldoon relented, supporting the county taking the lead with the town participating in the process as a recommending body.
“I’m pretty strongly in favor of the town taking a lead here and/or doing it jointly,” he said. “But I think at the end of the day what’s really important and what’s important to me is that we do a good analysis of the options. ... and we just let the public make a decision.”
The Jackson Town Council voted unanimously to support the release of a request for proposals for the neighborhood plan, and the Teton County Board of County Commissioners did so 4-1, with Commissioner Mark Newcomb opposed. He was looking for language encouraging exploration tools that would allow developers greater density in exchange for preserving open space elsewhere, rather than the looser sustainability language elected officials added in.
The process is intended to give the community a chance to weigh in on what they want to see in the area. The goal is to have the plan take between eight and 10 months. The cost is expected to be $400,000, with the county paying 62.5%, or $250,000, of the bill and the town covering the rest. Joint planning staff will manage the plan, which will ultimately require county approval.
The process will be overseen by a seven-person steering committee including as-yet unnamed members of the public and representatives from the Gill and Lockhart families. Planners recommended against including landowners in the steering committee, concerned that they could have an outsize influence, but elected officials said their participation was key.
“Without them having a voice we could go through this whole process, and they could just tell us, ‘We’re done; we don’t want to go through this,’” Commissioner Greg Epstein said.
Bill Schwartz, a partner at the Rank and Schwartz law firm and a longtime Gill family attorney and friend, aired concerns Monday in line with those other community members have expressed.
Schwartz questioned whether the project could be done well in the eight- to 10-month timeline proposed and come in under cost. He said there was a tension between “getting this done quickly and getting this done right” and suggested a way to reconcile those competing interests.
“Move forward with Gills’ proposal on the rezone now and, at the same time, work on the plan for the remaining 900 acres of northern South Park,” Schwartz said. “I hope that this vote on the RFP doesn’t suggest that the vote tomorrow is already preordained.”
The County Commission did not take action Tuesday on the Gills’ rezone request. (See cover story.)
The Gills and others who support their project have argued that neighborhood planning can happen as the family moves into subsequent regulatory approvals for the development, arguing that housing is needed now. But others have called for a neighborhood plan before any rezones are approved, contending that a plan will give the public a better idea of what development will look like. The Lockhart family has said it’s willing to wait for a plan before pursuing a rezone.