Although the Gill family says it’s critical to move forward quickly on their plan to build workforce housing in northern South Park, the Teton County Planning Commission decided Monday night to push pause briefly after calling the project “too critical” to rush.
The decision came after a three-hour meeting where the Gills made the case that it’s urgent to rezone 74 acres on the Jackson Hole Hereford Ranch to build housing for hospital workers. Critics of the proposal pushed back, seeking guarantees that the housing would ultimately be affordable to a wide swath of Jackson Hole workers.
“This is a really, really important application,” Planning Commission Chair Glen Esnard said. “Its intent is to address some critical needs that we have, and certainly address some opportunities that the applicant has for their family, for themselves, and to contribute to the community.”
The Planning Commission decided to postpone recommending a decision for two weeks after hearing from the family about the proposal and a new covenant placed on the property that would require 65% of the lots to be deed restricted in some way for the local workforce.
After the county planning director recommended denial of the application, concerned in part about guaranteeing the affordability of the housing, Senior Long Range Planner Kristi Malone said Monday that the covenant shook up the housing equation: “That voluntary deed restriction that was placed on the property is a huge development.”
At least 85 people emailed in comments, 11 members of the public showed up to the meeting in person to weigh in, and a few more did so virtually over Zoom.
“It’s always unfortunate when we have to extend the meeting, but I’m going to say that this is too important,” Esnard said. “We’ve got a lot of additional information, a lot of additional insight and perspectives. And this is way too critical.”
Critical is more or less how the Gills, their representatives and community members who spoke and provided written public comment framed the proposed rezone, a first step on the way to developing the open ranch lands in northern South Park for housing.
The family is asking to upzone 74 acres from a rural zone to the auto-urban residential zone, a change that would allow increased density and square footage, paving the way for subdividing the property into 312 lots. The proposal for those parcels, once subdivided, is to build detached, single-family homes on each that could be about 2,850 square feet, with the option to build up to two accessory residential units that would be available to rent.
On Monday, Susan Johnson, a former county planner who is representing the Gills, said developing all 300-plus lots would probably take about 20 years.
The Gills intend for 65% of the lots to be deed restricted for the local workforce. They recorded a covenant on Aug. 3 that would require that proportion of the lots the Teton County Board of County Commissioners approves to see some sort of workforce deed restriction. If that’s 312 lots as proposed, just over 200 lots would be reserved for the workforce in some way, and 30 or 40 of those would be donated to Habitat for Humanity of the Greater Teton Area.
Habitat board member Carol Linton told the News&Guide in January that it would be likely one of the largest gifts the nonprofit has received.
The goal, in the family’s mind, is to create a much-needed development for critical workers, a need they have tied to St. John’s Health since daylighting the proposal in January. CEO Paul Beaupre, who is set to retire, and two members of the hospital’s board of trustees have written the County Commission in support of the proposal, stating a need for 160 housing units in the next three years as portions of the hospital workforce retires.
“We came forward with this proposal as a way to help solve public needs, pressing public needs, pressing needs that families want us to solve now not later, needs that every one of our sitting elected officials campaigned to solve,” Nikki Gill told the Planning Commission Monday. (See her Guest Shot opinion on page 7A.) “It is not a question of never developing this area of northern South Park. Something will indeed happen on this land. The question is how can we do it in a timely manner?”
Richard Uhl, the market president of First Interstate Bank’s Jackson branch, and David Larson, a partner at the Geittman Larson Swift law firm, wrote in to support the proposal, as did a handful of other community members.
But a majority of the people who spoke at Monday’s meeting and emailed commissioners ahead of time spoke out against the proposal, including representatives from the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Shelter JH, and Act Now JH. About 74% of the 85 or so public comments the county had received by noon Monday were critical of or requested denial of the upzone — and not necessarily because they didn’t want to see the area developed.
Even as some commended the family for coming forward with the proposal, many worried about the affordability of the development for local workers.
“The broad swath of our community that needs housing — our teachers, nurses, sheriffs, childcare workers — they will not be able to afford those homes,” said Brooke Sausser, the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance’s community planning manager. “What we need instead is a variety of housing types, something that suits everyone in this community.”
The affordability question
Since the project was first announced in January, onlookers have publicly wondered how the property would be deed restricted and, specifically, whether any restrictions would be income-based, like some rules used by the Jackson/Teton County Affordable Housing Department. Those tools reserve units for renters or buyers based on their income as a percentage of the valley’s median family income, which is $110,700, according to the housing department.
There is concern because similarly sized homes on similarly sized lots to those proposed in northern South Park can fetch high prices on the market. Matt Faupel, an owner and associate broker at Jackson Hole Real Estate Associates, said you could expect to pay between $500,000 and $750,000 for the land itself. He based his low estimate on what he’s seen in county areas like Rafter J and Melody Ranch and the higher number on land sales in town.
He and Scott Shepherd of Scott Sheperd Real Estate estimated that construction on top of the land would cost between $250 and $400 per square foot.
Using those estimates, a market-rate home similar to what’s proposed in the Gill development could cost between $1.2 million and $1.9 million.
Realtor Greg Prugh, the owner of Prugh Real Estate, said prices could also be higher, citing homes in the Gill addition, a neighborhood next to Jackson Elementary School, that have recently sold for around $2 million or $3 million.
At 1,488 square feet, a Rafter J home that’s smaller than what the Gill family is proposing in northern South Park on a comparably sized 7,405-square-foot lot is listed for $1.1 million. In the Rangeview area of Cottonwood Park, a 2,834-square-foot home on a 8,276-square-foot lot, slightly larger than what’s proposed on the Hereford Ranch, is listed for $1.25 million.
With the Gills’ proposal focused on single-family homes with the option to build smaller accessory residential units, Planning Commissioners Susan Lurie and Alex Muromcew asked how prices would stay affordable. Though he misstated the proposed square footage of the homes, Muromcew questioned the affordability of a home for locals if it costs over $1 million.
“I don’t see how that is affordable to the staff at St. John’s except for a very select few,” he said. “If you’re not building townhomes or multifamily, how are these single-family homes going to be affordable to the average Teton County worker?”
Johnson and Amberley Baker, an attorney for the Gill family, said that there would be a potential for a mix of housing in the ARUs and that it’s too early to know price points. Baker nonetheless said the 65% of lots with deed restrictions will be “priced below fair market value.”
She also laid out the family’s plan for restricting the lots, a proposal that would see them “convey” the 200 or so workforce parcels to partners in the valley when they are platted and have those partners deed restrict them to ensure affordability.
Baker rattled off a list of government, for-profit and nonprofit entities that could be included, like the Jackson Hole Community Housing Trust — which argued for reviewing the Gills’ request before a neighborhood planning process for northern South Park was finished — and the housing department, which requested more information about deed restrictions.
“We believe in a public process with a high level of transparency and scrutiny, and therefore encourage active review of those restrictions by the county commissioners and the county attorney,” Baker said. “And we want to see those deed restrictions approved by the county at the right place and the best time in this process that will support those lot owners and their individual missions and purposes for their workforce.”
Teton County Planning Director Chris Neubecker recommended the County Commission deny the application, concerned about the affordability of the housing and its cohesiveness with the 2012 Jackson/Teton Comprehensive Plan. The Planning Commission will eventually make a recommendation to elected county commissioners, who have the final say on whether it is approved. The Planning Commission is set to take up the issue again at 6 p.m. on Aug. 24.
Before the Gill family recorded the covenant, planners argued that the proposed auto-urban residential zoning would not have guaranteed any workforce housing. The covenant may have moved the needle — “We’re very much in support of the applicant and the landowner for taking this step,” Malone said. “That is a very big deal” — but the planner said staff is still interested in more information about the makeup of the deed restrictions.
Planners’ other issues were primarily related to planning practices and policies.
The application is coming in before a draft update to the 2012 Jackson/Teton County Comprehensive Plan is approved that could explicitly call out the area for development. The current comp plan, a guiding document for planners, developers and elected officials making decisions about land use in the valley, does not do so, though the specifics are debated.
The review of the rezone would also precede a neighborhood plan for the entire northern South Park area, where the Lockhart family is also looking to upzone 117 acres for housing.
The Gills forcefully pushed back against the recommendation to deny the application.
“We can’t wait longer for planning to plan a plan, or planning to plan the implementation of an approved comp plan,” spokeswoman Liz Brimmer said, painting denial as a vote for a shortage of housing for health care workers. “If you are inclined to delay or deny, may I ask, what is your solution for roofs overhead for the hundreds of families included in 160 care workers?”
‘We can do a lot better’
Others, though, pushed back, calling for the full neighborhood plan.
“I know we can do a lot better,” development watchdog Rich Bloom said. “I know they can do a lot better. It’s imperative that you deny the [application] now until the joint neighborhood plan is completed, the draft changes to our Comprehensive Plan finishes its public review and approval process and, I trust, a much better proposal is brought forward.”
Malone insisted that the planning department’s recommendation wasn’t about saying “no.”
“A recommendation of denial is not staff saying no to development in northern South Park, it’s not saying no to zoning and development for workforce housing, it’s just ensuring that the entire sub area is planned comprehensively,” she said. “Everyone in this room is working towards the same larger goal. It’s just how we get there.”