Final offer: $1.9 million. That’s how much a family has agreed to pay the county for a vacant, 5-acre parcel on the West Bank.
Not everybody is pleased.
“I think it’s a terrible decision,” Town Councilor Jim Stanford said, referring to the Teton County Board of County Commissioners’ move to counter the Weiss family’s $1.4 million offer for the so-called Rains parcel. Commissioners asked for $1.9 million in response. And they got it.
The Weiss family’s purchase of the property is not final. But pending the successful results of a review process, the county is set to close with the family in March. If commissioners do, they will have sold the property for $50,000 less than taxpayers paid for the land in 2007.
But that wasn’t Stanford’s chief complaint.
“It illustrated to me the unwillingness to consider any impact or development in our community except on the citizens of town,” Stanford said.
The 2012 Jackson/Teton County Comprehensive plan “says that housing and development should go in the developed areas,” Stanford said. “The town is the biggest area, but it’s not the only one. And that’s what’s most frustrating to me.”
In early January, the town and county split administration of the Rains parcel, which went to the county, and the lot at 440 W. Kelly Ave., which went to the town. County commissioners had advocated selling the Rains parcel, despite opposition from some town councilors. And councilors had championed denser development at West Kelly, which some commissioners fought.
Dividing oversight of the two properties ultimately ended months of gridlock over how to proceed, giving separate jurisdiction to each governmental body.
After the deal was made, Stanford said he had still thought there would be some degree of cooperation, particularly as the two groups worked through the “growth management program,” through which town and county will consider updating the comp plan.
Part of that may have included updating the Aspens designation under the comp plan, which would have been the first step to chasing affordable development there.
The second would have been a rezone (the lot is currently slated for single family units). Stanford said he felt like the county’s quick action on making the now-accepted counter offer felt disingenuous.
“What the commissioners did was a cut and run,” he said.
The commissioners, however, pushed back.
Between the required comp plan amendment, rezone and potential litigation from neighbors, Commissioners Luther Propst and Mark Newcomb repeated what they have said since the Rains parcel went up for sale: that selling the lot and spending the money elsewhere was a more efficient use of time and resources.
They also advocated for developing around town, rather than in the county.
“The town is the better place for workforce housing than Highway 390,” Propst said, “390 has serious traffic congestion and capacity issues.”
“I had a vision as a candidate,” he said, “that a lot of housing should go in town because it makes so much more sense from the point of view of alleviating congestion, lessening carbon footprint, and making the town a vibrant and lively focal point of the community.”
Wes Gardner, who ran as an independent for Teton County commissioner in 2018, said he felt like pivoting away from the Rains property was a “missed opportunity.”
“My number one issue with the way we’re allocating housing resources is that there’s no urgency,” he said, referencing the town and county’s decision to abandon Hog Island development.
Stanford said speed was the problem.
“It’s choosing expediency over principle,” he said. “Sometimes hard work takes time and a lot of fortitude.”
Propst, though, defended his vote and the commission’s decision as prudent and expeditious.
“I’m not going to run from litigation out of the fear of litigation,” he said. “I want to get housing built now.”