With what seems to be the last major hiccup out of the way, developers say one of Jackson’s largest housing developments in years may be underway before the snow flies.
The Sagebrush Apartments, a 90-unit complex planned on Broadway near the Dollar Tree, has several times required tweaks from town officials since they first approved it in 2017. But it has nearly come out the other side, said John Shelton, one of the partners in the project.
“We’ve answered all their questions,” he said. “They told us they don’t see any more issues.”
The most recent — and perhaps final — hurdle came when developers realized that to obtain financing from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, they would have to alter the deed restrictions placed on about a third of the apartments.
Those restrictions designate the units for local workers. However, HUD requires that first priority be given instead to displaced persons and families — for example, those left without a home after a natural disaster.
Some members of the Town Council were hesitant to approve the change at a meeting last month, fearing it would hurt their efforts to house 65 percent of the workforce in Teton County, particularly considering this was not the first such adjustment.
Earlier this year, developers discovered another deed restriction dilemma: HUD would lend to the project only if the restrictions terminate upon foreclosure. They said foreclosure was unlikely, though, and the councilors ultimately decided the prospect of 90 apartments was worth the risk.
Town planners considered both changes minor deviations. But nevertheless, Councilor Jonathan Schechter asked, “At what point do a series of minor changes add up to something non-minor?”
And before those, the Sagebrush saga began with a more significant modification. In 2017 the council approved an amendment to the town’s land development regulations exempting the project from affordable housing requirements that mandate a certain percentage of the floor area be deed restricted for low-income renters.
“We’ve watered down this restriction so far that it’s not even really a restriction at all,” said Councilor Jim Stanford, the only one who voted against the change.
Planning Director Paul Anthony argued the restriction is still mostly intact, and Stefan Fodor, an attorney representing the Sagebrush partners, tried to ease the council’s concerns further. He said that in the experience of the company that will manage the project, not a single displaced person has been given priority for HUD-financed housing.
“Can I stand up here and make any guarantees and tell you it’s never going to happen? No,” he said. “But the odds are stacked against it.”
Stanford still maintained that the town “has contorted itself into a pretzel so many times to try to make this work that it’s nearly become a farce.” He worried it wouldn’t be the last time developers ask for new accommodations.
But ultimately his fellow councilors decided the benefits of adding more than 100 bedrooms to Jackson’s housing supply outweigh the potential pitfalls.
“I don’t feel contorted about it; I feel like we’ve been working through the problems,” Mayor Pete Muldoon said. “There will always be risk. But I feel like it’s risk that is acceptable to me.”
Now, more than two years after officials originally OK’d the Sagebrush Apartments, developers could soon begin construction. Town Planning Director Paul Anthony said he expects the building permit will soon be ready, in which case Shelton said they could break ground this fall and complete the project by summer of 2021.
“We have been looking at this for a long time,” Councilor Hailey Morton Levinson told the developers. “We’re frustrated, you’re frustrated. But at the end of the day I think this is a good project and one we should have in Jackson.”