After hearing concerns about transparency, Teton County commissioners have opened up to the public future meetings of the committee overseeing planning for growth in northern South Park.
“Northern South Park is the future of our community,” Brooke Sausser told the Teton County Board of County Commissioners on Monday. “It will be home to future generations of Jacksonites. It’s something we all have a stake in, and that’s why I was shocked and disturbed to hear that the steering committee met in private.
“Let’s not let an unhealthy black box of secrecy be what makes this plan controversial,” she said. “What we need is a transparent, good faith, authentic public process.”
Sausser is the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance’s community planning manager. She and Clare Stumpf, coordinator of housing advocacy group Shelter JH, both gave public comment at the county board’s Monday voucher meeting, urging greater transparency in the planning process for northern South Park.
Commissioners were receptive to their request and later asked Planning Director Chris Neubecker to open future meetings to the public and the press.
“I’m not comfortable excluding the public and the press,” Commissioner Luther Propst said. “I think that creates more suspicion than it’s worth, and it’s contrary to good decision-making.”
Senior Long Range Planner Kristi Malone confirmed to the Jackson Hole Daily on Thursday that a meeting being planned for late next week would be open to members of the public, who will be able to tune in via a Zoom webinar. Those who do attend will not be able to give public comment, but will be able to do so at other points throughout the process.
Commissioners asked that public comment be disallowed during steering committee meetings to expedite the proceedings.
“These meetings are under a very, very tight timeline,” Commissioner Mark Barron said. “Time is imperative.”
After a lengthy community debate this past fall, the county commissioners voted down the Gill family’s proposal to rezone 74 acres of their land in northern South Park, opting instead for a “neighborhood planning” effort to guide future development in the area directly south of town.
Commissioners and the Jackson Town Council, which has only the ability to make recommendations during the planning effort, agreed to spend $400,000 on the project. Opticos Design Inc. will facilitate the planning process, with the goal of completing the neighborhood plan by July.
The steering committee is a seven-person body made up of five community members as well as members of the Gill and Lockhart families, the two landowning families in northern South Park. It will help guide the planning effort by advising county staff and its recently selected consultant on community issues, potential solutions and the direction of the process.
“These members have some kind of professional expertise or experience, or they are directly involved with the land,” Malone said. “They won’t be making their own recommendation on anything. It’ll be assisting staff and assisting the consultant group in preparation of materials.”
The county is also set to select a larger number of stakeholders — people who will be interviewed for their perspectives on the project — and there will be a separate planning process for the public. People can also submit written comments at any point.
Malone said the first steering committee meeting occurred Dec. 18, during which county staff, members of the steering committee and the consulting team spent about an hour introducing themselves, discussing meeting etiquette and format, reviewing the project’s scope and timeline, and talking about measuring the project’s success.
Discussions of benchmarking success will continue over into the next meeting, Malone said, along with a discussion of transparency given public involvement going forward.
Malone said there was never an intention to be secretive with the steering committee meetings, just that the focus was on expediency.
“I don’t think there was ever any intention to exclude the public or the media from taking part in these meetings,” Malone said. “I think that we just looked at it as a working group for collaborative purposes with staff and the consultant group.
“Transparency is the bottom line,” she said.
Contact Billy Arnold at 732-7063 or email@example.com.