Town and county officials are split on whether to sell a 5-acre slice of West Bank land or hold onto it as a plot for affordable housing.
They were unable to reach consensus in their Monday joint meeting.
The now defunct Teton County Housing Authority bought the acreage at 3590 N. Kennel Lane in 2007 for $1.95 million in specific purpose excise tax funds. The plan was to later sell the “Rains property” or redevelop it as affordable housing complex.
The property, which is vacant, is zoned for a single-family home with a guesthouse. It could house 20 units with a rezone to “suburban zone” or 29 lots with 87 units, including accessory residential units, with a rezone to “auto urban residential zone. There’s also a third option on the rezoning table: 150 dorm rooms, under “auto urban commercial zone.”
But according to the community’s comprehensive plan, the land falls into a “stable” area that should remain as is.
Jackson/Teton County Affordable Housing Director April Norton recommended listing the property for a minimum of the original price and evaluating the site for workforce housing through the town and county’s growth management program study. Consultants are launching the study to evaluate how the county is faring on goals like housing 65% of the workforce locally and whether new strategies are needed.
Former Town Councilor Bob Lenz urged officials to use the parcel for deed-restricted housing.
“Where else in this valley are you going to buy 5 acres that are just there, waiting to be developed, you just have to zone it in a way that you can develop it for housing?” Lenz said during public comment.
The site is near the Millward development, a 49-unit affordable housing neighborhood built in 2004 on 8.3 acres next to the Calico Restaurant. Jessica Jaubert, who lives in the subdivision, noted the parcel is close to groceries and transit.
“I encourage you guys to find a solution,” she said. “I think it’s a great area for housing.”
Brandon Ryan, also a neighbor to the property, said housing might make sense for the lot, suggesting five homes, but asserted that 150 dorms would be out of scale with the surrounding density.
Councilor Jim Stanford opposed selling the land. While many discussions about housing density focus on locating it in the town of Jackson, he said complete neighborhoods in the county must also take on some of the density to meet workforce housing goals.
Commissioner Mark Barron favored selling the property, noting the property was entangled in a lawsuit when neighbors after neighbors sued following the $1.95 million land purchase in the mid-2000s.
“This has been a 12-year nonperforming asset,” Barron said. “The county and the community would be better served to sell this and put it into a more appropriate, less prone to legal action piece of property so that we can develop housing.
“My understanding of the history of this is this has been beat up by lawyers for quite a number of years, who are opposed to seeing this developed.”
Commissioner Luther Propst agreed.
“We can get more bang for our buck elsewhere,” Propst said. “We can get housing on the ground faster elsewhere, perhaps northern South Park, perhaps other places. We’ve been in about a 12-year economic expansion, and I think we might be smart to sell the property now.”
Town Councilor Arne Jorgensen, however, pushed for getting units on the ground, be it through development or a sale.
“My strong preference is, let’s do something,” he said. “This is a piece of property purchased with public funds 12 years ago.”
County commissioners voted unanimously to list the property for sale while also including it in the ongoing study on growth and housing opportunities in the county. Councilors Jorgensen and Hailey Morton Levinson supported the sale, but, absent an additional aye from the town cohort, action on the Rains property was delayed to an undetermined date.