The Jackson Town Council has voted unanimously to recommend approving a neighborhood plan for northern South Park with a few caveats regarding infrastructure requirements and who would be responsible for bearing those costs.
The town’s recommendation goes to the Teton County Board of County Commissioners, which has final say over the plan.
Councilors expressed some concerns at their June 21 meeting over the impact the planned neighborhood would have on already-existing infrastructure such as roads and the amount of traffic that would be generated by such a large development.
According to Community Development Director Tyler Sinclair — soon to be the interim town manager — the area comprises 225 acres, 100 of which are owned by the Gill family and 125 owned by the Lockharts.
Existing entitlements already allow for building 118 units — 86 on the Gill land and 32 on the Lockharts’ property. The neighborhood plan calls for adding 1,200 additional entitlements, bringing the total housing allowed to 1,318 units. The new development would include 40% affordable housing, 30% workforce housing and 30% market-rate housing.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for the community to secure a significant amount of deed-restricted housing,” Sinclair said.
Meanwhile, Sinclair said, the town’s wastewater treatment plant has the capacity to bring the new neighborhood online, though aspects of the water system would have to be more closely examined.
Councilor Jim Rooks raised a few concerns about the project, starting with the number of students the neighborhood would add to the Teton County School District and wanting to be sure everyone was working with the same data.
Rooks pointed out that the neighborhood plan in front of the council estimated .25 new students per home, totaling 329 new students for the district.
However, that figure differs from historical data Rooks, a retired educator, said he has seen. The number to which Rooks referred was 1.8 students per home, and he said district Superintendent Gillian Chapman told him the northern South Park development could land more than 800 new students in the district.
“The difference between 329 students and 800 students is a big difference,” Rooks said.
To that end, school board member Kate Mead addressed the council during the public comment period and discussed potential overcrowding in schools. A new school is needed in the development, she said, but added that it’s problematic that the kids in the new neighborhood will be of varying ages and thus would attend different schools.
Regardless, “maybe now is not the time for a [new] school site to be demanded by you, but certainly it should be with this level of development,” Mead said.
Councilor Rooks also raised the traffic aspect of the project and inevitable increase in traffic loads due to the new neighborhood. He questioned whether High School Road and Gregory Lane, specifically, are able to handle the added capacity. He called traffic projections in the neighborhood plan “consultancy gone wrong,” and said he thinks the data was possibly compiled using incorrect methods.
“There’s no way that the existing infrastructure can handle the advent of over 1,000 new homes without incredible investments and significant improvements in infrastructure,” Rooks said emphatically.
After being told that street and mobility infrastructure improvements in the area were in the works, Rooks later asked that specifics of those improvements be brought before the council in the near future.
Sinclair acknowledged that the traffic analysis and projection did not account for “peak” drop-off and pick-up times at the schools and that would have to be looked at further.
“Traffic is tough,” Sinclair said. “I think we can agree to disagree, or you don’t have to accept the findings of our traffic engineer if we feel the road needs improvements now.”
Related road improvements and additions, such as the Tribal Trails Connector, would not be the burden of the developer, Sinclair added, saying those costs would likely fall on the shoulders of the public.
Vice Mayor Arne Jorgensen said he thinks it’s important to set expectations regarding funding and shared funding of infrastructure improvements necessitated by the new development.
“[Funding for] areas that are coming from these additional units should be borne by this project,” the vice mayor said, adding that there should be a cost-share for places like High School Road, where improvements are already planned.
He also said that infrastructure throughout the new development, such as water and sewer pipes should be built to town standards.
“A future council will be considering annexation [of northern South Park],” Jorgensen said, so the requirement would help avoid problems if and when that happens.
Rooks moved to recommend the neighborhood plan to the county commission for approval, with consideration of topics the council addressed, which was seconded by Councilor Jessica Sell Chambers and passed unanimously.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for the community to secure a significant amount of deed-restricted housing.” — Tyler Sinclair Community Development Director