The option designed to pack the most workforce housing into a parcel at 440 W. Kelly Ave. died Tuesday by one vote.
Amid heated resistance from neighbors, and despite support from top housing officials, the Town Council and the Board of County Commissioners ultimately scrapped the controversial design to build a 16-unit complex in a neighborhood of predominantly single-family homes.
“I think change in the community is inevitable,” Commissioner Luther Propst said. “I think it’s desirable ... but I think this development is just too much for this site.”
Propst, who joined the majority of commissioners in voting 3 to 2 to reject the design, said he’d prefer “a more gradual transition.” Although town councilors approved the project 3 to 2, the county’s no-vote nullified the town’s decision. The town and county jointly own the land.
The vote came after officials heard from about 10 neighbors, all of whom denounced the project, saying it would ruin the character of the area. Loren Nelson, who lives just around the corner on Flat Creek Drive, said the homes were well designed but wouldn’t fit in.
“They would look fantastic in the Village,” Nelson said. “They would be awful on Kelly. They really would look so out of place as to be obnoxious and really destroy the entire feel of the neighborhood.”
Others, including neighbor Dan Peterson, said it would be irresponsible to allow the influx of perhaps 20 or more vehicles without any way to alleviate their impact.
“We’ve already got a traffic problem,” he said. “We shouldn’t just start down this path … unless we know what we’re going to do about all the cars that are now coming in.”
After a vast town rezone in the summer of 2018 the property in question — and the surrounding neighborhood — was slated for redevelopment under the designation NH-1. The proposed project is the first venture into the new, dense zoning, devised to promote workforce housing.
But the strong community reaction to the prospect of three-story complexes shows what may be in store for such projects. As Propst put it, approving a large cluster of units would be a victory, but perhaps a pyrrhic one as citizens grow averse to the town and county’s housing strategies.
Councilor Jonathan Schechter came to the same conclusion. He said the difference between a more moderate number of units — say, eight or 10 — and the proposed 16 is marginal enough to be worth the sacrifice.
Schechter advocated approving fewer units in hopes of “the neighbors singing its praises, because over the long haul that’s going to get us to where we want to be, which is a whole lot of housing that the community really embraces.”
Likewise, Michael Stern, another outspoken Kelly Street resident, urged elected officials to heed their constituents’ warnings.
“Without significant changes to the way you are conducting business,” he said, “support for affordable housing will evaporate and be replaced with staunch opposition to the way you are remaking our community.”
With the 16-unit proposal out of the picture, officials could still select a second 12-unit design, which comes with 10 one-bedroom units and two two-bedroom units. Both designs are from J. Roller Development and Tack Development.
But the project’s status is unclear now, after some councilors and commissioners said they would oppose anything less than 16 units in favor of selling the lot to reinvest the money in other housing opportunities.
Mayor Pete Muldoon argued that considering the severity of the housing shortage in Teton County it would be wrong not to maximize housing on the property.
“The big picture here is we’ve got people living in trailers,” he said. “That is unacceptable to me as an elected official in our community, and it’s why I … continue to work to provide more workforce housing. That’s what’s important here, and I urge us all to keep that in the forefront of our minds and our hearts.”
On the council, Muldoon, Hailey Morton Levinson and Arne Jorgensen voted for the 16-unit proposal. Schechter and Jim Stanford voted against.
As for the commissioners, Propst, Mark Barron and Greg Epstein voted against, with Natalia Macker and Mark Newcomb in favor.
Despite rocky progress so far, Ruben Caldwell of Tack Development said his group is “excited to work within the constraints that are provided by you all.”
“We stand ready to build whatever you guys would like to see built,” he said.
The elected officials will meet again in coming weeks to decide what to do with the property.