Rains property

The yellow outline shows 5 acres on the West Bank that elected officials are trying to decide what to do with: sell or keep for affordable housing.

After a redo vote on the future of the “Rains property,” housing officials can move forward with listing the 5-acre West Bank plot for sale.

Because the property was purchased with excise tax funding in 2007, there have always been two options for its future: sell it, or redevelop it as affordable housing. When town and county elected officials weighed the alternatives earlier this month, they were initially split on the best use of the land.

County commissioners unanimously approved putting it up for sale while also including it in an ongoing study of housing opportunities in the county, leaving the door open for affordable housing on the site. But three of the five town councilors rejected the idea of selling the property at a meeting July 1, blocking the Housing Authority Board from proceeding.

Then Mayor Pete Muldoon, one of the nays, asked for a second vote two weeks later. He said his original decision had been based on the mistaken belief that the vote included a minimum sale price of $1.95 million, the original purchase price. When he realized otherwise he called for a do-over and cast the swing vote for the council.

“There is obviously a price that we would have to consider,” Muldoon said, adding that $1.95 million would be too low. “It would have to be substantially higher for me to be interested in selling this property.”

Whatever dollar figure the Housing Authority Board arrives at — based on consultation with its real estate advisor — the councilors and commissioners will still have to approve it before the property can be listed.

“At the end of the day,” said Matt Faupel, chairman of the Housing Authority Board, “with regard to the assets that we hold as the authority, we don’t make decisions outside of what the electeds tell us they want done.”

Faupel said the board has not discussed a sale price yet, but he expects that will come up at its next meeting on Aug. 7.

Some of the elected officials seem confident that selling is the right move, and are eager to do so. Commissioner Mark Barron, who has called the property “a 12-year nonperforming asset,” argues the money from the sale could go toward more promising housing opportunities elsewhere.

Councilor Arne Jorgensen agreed, saying that after a decade the electeds need to “do something.”

“I would like something to be happening, and it doesn’t sound like there’s an appetite or willingness at this point to move a development option forward,” he said. “And given that, I would like to see it sold so we can take that money and use it somewhere else.”

Another sticking point is that under the Comprehensive Plan the property is designated as a “stable” area that shouldn’t be developed. The plan calls for the majority of housing growth in Teton County to be built within town boundaries and complete neighborhoods in the county.

Though the Rains property — located at 3590 N. Kennel Lane — is vacant and zoned for a single-family home with a guesthouse, it is near The Aspens. Officials could rezone it in several ways to house 20, 87 or even up to 150 units.

Some officials are attracted by that idea. Although Muldoon accepted the possibility of selling, he said he would still prefer to use the site for workforce housing, and Councilors Jonathan Schechter and Jim Stanford remain firm in opposition to a sale.

Stanford argued that the county must do its part to house 65% of local workers in Teton County rather than count on the town to absorb all that density, and he believes the Rains property is a suitable spot.

“My position has not changed,” he said before the revote. “I’m not in favor of selling the property.”

Contact Cody Cottier at 732-5911 or town@jhnewsandguide.com.

Cody Cottier covers town and state government. He grew up with a view of the Olympic Mountains, and after graduating Washington State University he traded it for a view of the Tetons. Odds are the mountains are where you’ll find him when not on deadline.

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