The Gill family’s housing proposal in Northern South Park presents a compelling solution to a well known problem — deed restricted workforce housing.

Now, with the adjacent Lockhart family’s request for a rezone, the two housing proposals in Northern South Park offer the community a complex intersection between needed workforce housing stock and a proper neighborhood planning process.

The Gill family and their plan’s proponents come to the planning and zoning commission with a thoughtful plan, drawn by professionals, and an emotionally charged argument to move swiftly.

They’ve recorded a covenant requiring that 65% of the development be deed-restricted as workforce housing, so long as their timeline for rezone, sketch plan, and subdivision plan approval is followed. They plan to work with valley institutions like St. John’s Health and other employers who could partner to build homes. The longer it takes to break ground, the more expensive construction will become.

On the other hand, early opposition from groups who have opposed large scale development in South Park say slow down and get it right. The community gets one chance to plan, and it’s better to get it done right than fast.

So now, we have competing visions to accomplish the attainable: a large scale supply of housing at the table awaiting approvals and direction from local planning departments.

This begs the questions: In 2020, how do we best plan and implement large scale developments? Has the Comprehensive Plan created a net of bureaucracy that prevents feasible development at the scale the valley needs? Or, has it provided safeguards from runaway development when we see the character of “The Last of the Old West” protected? Or, is it time to resign this slogan as a relic of progress that’s no longer resembling a Jackson we love?

Let’s hope not. Here’s some of what we envision:

Housing that our working community can afford. Workforce housing by concept is appropriate, but will the units actually start and stay affordable? Working with established affordable housing groups to plan and execute the restrictions is the best way.

Conservation easements and green spaces, including wetlands, can help reduce the loss of open space for wildlife while preserving some of South Park’s rural character.

Neighborhood planning is needed for all of North South Park — this is a much bigger conversation than just the Gill parcel. It is about the future of our community, not just one parcel or landowner. Infrastructure should be planned prior to individual parcels being developed, because thousands of additional residents will occupy this area.

What we need is a balance between timely development in the identified areas in the Comprehensive Plan and the private property rights to develop land within existing and changed zoning. Variances to current zoning are expected to be highly scrutinized to ensure we meet community needs and create a fair return to stated community values and appropriate planning process.

This complex intersection can’t be solved with the wave of a wand; it must happen through a public process, for better or worse. A good public process takes time. Local elected officials must realize time is of the essence, and work diligently together to provide the best outcome for North South Park: a complete neighborhood plan within 12 months that informs the Gill family’s development sketch plan. This provides checks and balances the community needs while working hard to keep the deed-restricted workforce housing momentum going.

By the News&Guide’s editorial board: Johanna Love, Rebecca Huntington, Kevin Olson and Adam Meyer.

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