Circumstances are in flux at two properties crucial to the future of housing in Teton County, prompting elected officials to modify their approach Monday to planning for residential development there.

In the past two weeks the county approved the sale of a 5-acre parcel of land on the West Bank, and the Gill family proposed a housing project on 100 acres at the north end of South Park. The shifting landscape changes the calculus of where officials will focus their energy as they try to offset Jackson Hole’s housing shortage.

After the revelation last week of the Gills’ interest in developing nearly 500 lots just south of High School Road, elected officials showed a new sense of urgency and a desire to quickly craft a master plan to guide growth on what is now the northwest corner of the Jackson Hole Hereford Ranch.

“This area of our community is the place where we can actually expand and it doesn’t create tons of sprawl, and we can do it strategically and systematically,” Commissioner Greg Epstein said. “We’re now at a point where one of the landowners has actually laid the cards down.”

Not everyone was wholeheartedly enthusiastic. Commissioner Mark Newcomb argued that housing in northern South Park would be a major change in the community vision for how and where housing should be built. The Comprehensive Plan largely focused on the idea of “town as heart,” in which most residential density is kept within Jackson limits and not in rural Teton County.

“There’s a very high probability here that ... this direction will fundamentally shift us away from town as heart, and to basically a new south Jackson,” Newcomb said.

He acknowledged that “that might be a good thing,” considering it’s near Smith’s Food and Drug, other services and schools. But, he added, it would also erase a large piece of the open green space that many Jacksonites cherish.

Ultimately, most agreed that northern South Park is an opportunity with few parallels. They voted to have planners look into the logistics of creating a master plan for the area in the coming months.

Epstein, worried that the two governing bodies would just “wait, and wait, and wait” and miss their shot to help steer the project, asked that the master plan be made the preeminent task for town and county staff this year.

“I would like to see things expedited,” he said. “I understand that there’s a lot of other things going on, but it seems to me that every day the conversation is about housing in this community, and there’s an opportunity in front of us.”

His colleagues countered, saying they should wait to prioritize various projects until April, when the town and county traditionally review their staff workload for the year.

“It’s clearly very important,” County Planning Director Chris Neubecker said. “But I want you and the other commissioners to understand what are the items that would be potentially coming off the list if this is going onto the list.”

As the town and county begin planning for northern South Park, the roles of the two governing bodies are unclear. As of now, the Town Council has no jurisdiction outside town limits to plan or zone land.

But County Deputy Attorney Keith Gingery said a few Wyoming municipalities, including Saratoga and Sheridan, have reached agreements with their counties under which the county sets the zoning but the town must approve it within half a mile of town limits.

That is meant to ensure all development bordering the town meets the same standards as adjacent development within town limits for water, sewer, roads and sidewalks, “so you don’t suddenly build a neighborhood that nothing connects,” Gingery said.

Though officials have largely turned their attention to northern South Park, they also touched on other properties that could play a major role in Teton County’s long-term housing strategy.

The commissioners voted last month to sell the Rains property, near The Aspens, giving up direct control over that parcel’s future. It now figures less in their housing considerations, but some still suggested a rezone of the area could raise the likelihood of dense workforce housing.

Others said Stilson may be a more promising site. With 8 acres owned by Teton County and 26.5 acres owned by Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Stilson offers roughly 35 acres near services and amenities available in Wilson. The town and county voted to designate both that parcel and land surrounding the Aspens as areas that could accommodate increased residential density.

For now, officials are more focused on northern South Park, for which planners will present more detail on a possible master plan in April.

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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