A years-long struggle between neighbors and a developer immediately to the west of Snow King Mountain Resort appears to have finally been put to rest Monday by the Jackson Town Council.
Specifically at issue was the access some residents on Pine Drive have to trails accessing Snow King past or through the neighboring Pine Glades development. The Pine Drive residents argued that they had long had access to Snow King via a route that became Pine Glades Drive when the Pine Glades development came into existence 13 years ago. Though Pine Glades Drive is a private road, they claim the original developer, Jeff Hussey, had allowed them access to Snow King via Pine Glades Drive, but that current owner John Tozzi has denied that access since he bought the development from Hussey in 2017.
For his part, Tozzi points out that the road is private and maintained by the HOA, not the Town of Jackson, and that allowing pedestrian traffic on a significant stretch of the roadway that passes in front of market-value homes would create a hazard because it is too narrow, at about 13 to 14 feet wide.
At the council’s prior meeting on June 15, Town of Jackson Senior Planner Tyler Valentine proposed a route that would have taken the Pine Drive residents north to a trail at Wister Avenue before heading east toward Snow King. That trail then would have had an easement on Pine Glades Drive for the final 270 linear feet to the west of the Pine Glades tunnel.
However, Councilor Arne Jorgensen on Monday surveyed the area on foot with Bill Collins, an agent for Tozzi, and came up with an amended proposal that would have the trail from the Pine Drive cul-de-sac running parallel to, and just below, the Pine Glades Drive retaining wall before reaching the 270-foot easement, rather than having the Pine Drive residents go a good distance farther to the Wister Avenue trail.
Tozzi expressed displeasure with the so-called compromise Jorgensen came up with, saying he has bent over backwards to accommodate the town and neighboring residents by providing over 4,000 linear feet of trails on his 17-acre development.
“We didn’t have an obligation on any of these trails,” Tozzi told the council. “This is a compromise. I say ‘compromise,’ this is something that’s been proposed to conclude this matter and has been months and months of work going into analyzing and engineering these trails. The planning department knows that. This 12th-hour alternative, I didn’t say ‘no,’ but it’s something that would have to, the planning department, myself and the homeowners would need to be able to discuss and rationally analyze.”
Referring to the route coming from Pine Drive, Jorgensen said of his proposed change that “the alignment, to me, it functions much simpler, it is a better gradient. It is not what many people want, but I think it is a reasonable alternative and I think it will work better than what is currently proposed in that segment 2 [of the June 15 proposal].”
Jorgensen then made a motion for Tozzi to work with the planning commission on developing that pathway. If they were unable to make that work, or if that plan was shot down by the Pine Glades homeowners association, then it would revert back to the route proposed at the June 15 meeting. Councilor Hailey Morton Levinson seconded the motion.
In subsequent discussion, Councilor Jim Stanford asked Town Attorney Lea Colasuonno if the Pine Drive residents could argue that they had a “prescriptive easement” on Pine Glades Drive because they had been accessing that route for years, or even decades, as in the case of resident and meteorologist Jim Woodmencey who has lived on Pine Drive for 33 years. Colasuonno replied that, yes, they could make that case. Woodmencey on Tuesday afternoon said he’s pleased with Jorgensen’s proposal, saying that it would appease the Pine Drive contingent and simultaneously save Tozzi money because he wouldn’t have to build nearly as extensive a trail network.
“That would be a totally acceptable compromise and in the long run would be cheaper for Mr. Tozzi than building those other two trails on really steep ground,” Woodmencey said, adding that Tozzi has “the magic wand” in the whole situation because he owns 60 percent of the properties in Pine Glades (combining developed and undeveloped), so his HOA vote will swing the decision one way or the other.
However, Tozzi disagreed with Stanford’s wording about the prescriptive easement, stating that Hussey, the prior owner, had never intended for Pine Drive residents to have such access. He referred to one email apparently written by Hussey to a number of concerned parties on the issue where he wrote, “There was never any intention for the Pine Drive neighbors to have access to the private Pine Glades Drive and tunnel after it was built. Pine Glades is PRIVATE PROPERTY.” That point has been disputed by the Pine Drive residents since Tozzi bought the property. They say Hussey allowed continued access until he sold.
Mayor Pete Muldoon and Jorgensen moved the conversation forward, with Jorgensen saying, “To me, this is a compromise. … A lot of the discussion surrounding this property makes me sad because of various statements and histories, and I’m looking forward to getting this cleaned up so we can move away from being sad and get something that’s on the ground, in place, accessible to the public and that’s known, so people know what’s available for the public to access.”
Ultimately, the council voted unanimously to approve Jorgensen’s motion, with Councilor Jonathan Schechter thanking Jorgensen for his work on the easement issue and saying, “I’m going to be very happy to have this behind us.”
If approved by both the planning commission and the homeowners association, Monday’s vote on the easement and another change to the final development plan regarding a heated street at the tunnel clears the path for Tozzi to continue construction, which had been stalled pending resolution of those two issues.