The Darwiche family’s now-submitted plans to repurpose Legacy Lodge from an assisted living center to employee housing are raising alarm among Rafter J residents about traffic, affordability and the process itself.
Which concerns are most prominent depend on which Rafter J resident you talk to.
“Everybody has their own concept of what might happen and they’re responding to that,” said Karen Jerger, treasurer of the Rafter J Ranch Homeowners Association board. The board, she said, has quibbles of its own about the application and is drafting a letter to the Teton County Board of County Commissioners that will lay them out in more detail. Meanwhile, she said, the board hasn’t taken a position because the Darwiches haven’t brought a specific proposal to the HOA.
“We’re just trying to stay on top of things and respond to things in a timely fashion,” Jerger said.
The Darwiches have, however, submitted a proposal to Teton County that lays out plans similar to what they proposed over the summer: Converting the former assisted living facility into a commercial apartment complex, which would be managed by a property management firm, and leasing units in blocks to valley employers, who could in turn sublease the apartments to employees at “affordable rates.”
The goal, as stated in the Darwiches’ application, is to address housing issues in Jackson Hole, which, like other Mountain West communities, is experiencing a housing crisis.
“The lack of workforce housing in the community is possibly the single biggest challenge facing Teton County,” the Darwiches wrote. “Conversion of the Legacy Lodge building into workforce housing will provide 57 units of workforce housing at no cost to the public.”
Hal Hutchinson, the planning consultant representing the family, declined to comment on Rafter J residents’ concerns for the time being, saying it was early in the process.
Planning staff have not released a preliminary review of the proposal, and the full review, which will culminate in public hearings in front of the Teton County Planning Commission and County Commission, is expected to take five months.
Housing advocacy group Shelter JH appears generally supportive, with a caveat about guaranteeing affordability. That’s something Rafter J residents also worried about.
“We encourage our elected officials to impose iron-clad deed restrictions to ensure that this project remains permanently affordable,” Shelter JH Coordinator Clare Stumpf wrote in a statement to the News&Guide, applauding the Darwiches for the effort on workforce housing. “With these safeguards in place, we hope that our electeds will follow through with their promises to support our community members and have the courage to say yes to homes for locals in the face of some opposition.”
In the application the family says they’re not proposing any deed restrictions and say the requirement to use the units as “workforce” housing “will be included within all master leases to employers.”
Housing Director April Norton declined to comment, saying she hadn’t had time to review the proposal.
The Darwiches are asking for two things in order to repurpose the former assisted living facility.
One is to amend the Rafter J planned unit development, the zoning for the neighborhood that the county approved in 1978, to allow residential apartments — it currently does not — and for parking requirements for apartments to be determined through a conditional use permit. They’re also asking the county to approve a permit laying out how the apartment complex would operate.
Because the building already exists the Darwiches argue the conversion can be quick — and “would not require any additional development in a community that is facing traffic and employee generation challenges resulting from significant development pressures.”
“When considering the previous use of the property, and the proposed workforce housing use, they are not really that different, and the proposed use is far less of an impact than many of the by-right uses,” the Darwiches wrote. Things like office space and a gas station are allowed on the property. “With the appropriate controls and assurances, the impacts of the proposed use can differ little from the previous use while addressing current community workforce housing challenges.”
But some Rafter J residents who spoke with the News&Guide don’t agree. They think there will be impacts, with some feeling that their community is not the right place for housing.
Others feel that the Darwiches are circumventing a vote by Rafter J HOA members by going to the county and not including the HOA board.
“Our community is framing this as affordable housing and it is not,” Rafter J resident Jan Lovett said. “It is about the rights of the Rafter J people to determine what their neighborhood is going to be and make the changes that we’re entitled to make.”
In Lovett’s mind, Rafter J should be allowed a binding vote on the proposal under its covenants. Other residents concurred with that at a somewhat contentious July neighborhood meeting.
But it’s not clear if neighborhood property owners will be able to have any sort of vote on the issue.
Jerger said covenants require a vote from Rafter J homeowners, which she thinks would trump a decision from the county, if there is a request for a change of zoning from “local convenience commercial” — the designation for the Legacy Lodge parcel under the 1978 code, which applies to the lot — to “residential.” The Darwiches’ application proposes amending the 1978 code to allow a conditional “apartment” use in the “local convenience commercial” zone.
Jerger thinks “some of the proposals to the county seem to be trying to get around” an HOA vote.
Most people the News&Guide reached about the issue declined to comment on the Rafter J homeowners’ voting power. Michael Keegan, the president of the HOA board, did not return a request for comment.
Teton County Planning and Building Director Chris Neubecker said in an email that “the county process is independent of the Rafter J HOA regulations” and that a vote by the HOA would not affect county review.
But, Neubecker said, “a property owner is required to comply with both the county Land Development Regulations and relevant private covenants. Any private agreements or covenants that apply to the property could be enforced by the HOA through any legal means available, but the county does not enforce private covenants or other private agreements.”
And, with a vote in question, some homeowners are positive they’d prefer to see the former Legacy Lodge building stay an assisted living facility.
“It was a beautiful thing when we had the elderly people living there,” Janis Allen said. “The nexus between the childcare center and Legacy Lodge was really lovely for the community. The spirit of Rafter J is very much that circle of life.”
Others feel that Rafter J is already a home for local workers — and that allowing for employee housing at Legacy Lodge would go against the covenants they relied on when they bought the home.
And others still aren’t convinced that there wouldn’t be significant traffic increases, particularly at the intersection of West Big Trail Drive and South Highway 89.
“There is no way that 114 additional working individuals driving from the neighborhood will not impact the existing traffic condition which is already very dangerous,” Hans Flinch wrote in an email to county planners, multiplying the number of units in Legacy Lodge (57) by two presumed tenants to get the 114 number. The Darwiches say no more than two “unrelated family members” will be able to live in one unit.
“Turning left onto the highway out of Rafter J,” Flinch wrote of rush hour, “currently requires a degree from NASCAR.”
The Darwiches note in their application 36 parking spaces on the property, and say that all of those spaces will be leased along with the master leases for the apartments.
They want parking requirements to be determined under the conditional use permit and don’t mention expanding parking in their application to the county.
“Parking spaces will be assigned, and reserved,” they wrote. “This will serve to limit the number of cars that can be parked on the property at one time.”
And debate is likely just beginning. Public meetings have yet to be scheduled.