For the last two years I’ve worked in my spare time to prevent the demolition and redevelopment of two historic homes, with eight individual apartments, 11 bedrooms, community vegetable gardens, a vibrant subcommunity and adjacent open space in downtown Jackson. My goal has been to keep this property at 165 N. Glenwood Street serving locals who contribute to our community as it has for a century: affordable, modest, community housing, and, a new public greenspace opportunity.
Why? For six years, I’ve lived in one of the apartments. My life was made better by stable housing and reasonable rent. Here, I figured, was a perfect opportunity to stop the loss of at least one unique, valuable, truly irreplaceable asset, and to leave one thing in Jackson better than I found it.
In 2019 the Jackson community was heartened with our Save The Block success. But when Wisconsin-based developer SR Mills also moved forward in 2019 with his project to build 29 new, $3 million to $5 million luxury condos — nine of which would replace our little neighborhood, the victory seemed fraught with unhappy irony.
In one fell swoop our stated community priorities — vibrant social fabric, historic character, dense centralized affordable housing, wildlife permeability, zero waste — would literally and figuratively be trucked to the dump together. Simply put, we lose, again.
These early Jackson homes stood through the great conservation fights of the early 20th century, through World War II, and housed the climbers and skiers of our modern culture. Amidst the “that’s a shame” laments on social media, it seemed there had to be better solution.
I gave Mr. Mills a call. I was amazed when he said he’d sell the property for the express purpose of affordable housing and historic preservation. He even said it in public, to the Town Council! Yet when I brought the opportunity around for a backer, I found reusing existing housing didn’t fit any local nonprofit or organization’s mission.
We permit demolition of standing, useful and, in this case, dense housing, and replace it with burdensome second homes or tourist amenities, which create greater service employee demand, traffic and exacerbate housing demand. Then we rebuild, at great cost, affordable housing to replace some of what was just destroyed. This is a hamster wheel of utter stupidity.
Many factors influence Teton County’s housing problems, but poor past decisions and a local government operating under the shadow of Cheyenne — resistant to federal overreach, gleeful in its own intrastate overreach — doesn’t help. Our rules make the problems caused by each new project Jackson is impregnated with the community’s, not the developer’s. For now, we must find our own solutions.
As a journalist, I couldn’t resist the research challenge: how to save a place that matters!
I embarked on a crash course in commercial real estate, tax tools and other eye-glazing concepts. Advice and tutelage came from all corners, from the Teton County Historic Preservation Board, Housing Department, S.R. Mills, specialized appraisers, community leaders.
We found in the end most of the outlay can be recouped and keep this housing for significantly less than rebuilding new affordable units. The template to save 165 Glenwood can be used to save other existing housing of exceptional density and cultural and historic value, something we desperately need.
It’s been a tough road. Notwithstanding the gift of perhaps the only developer in the Western Hemisphere who publicly stated he’d be willing to leave millions on the table to give us, the wealthiest county in the United States, a chance to solve our own problem, the opportunity remained outside the box.
The funding outlay we need for purchase lies in a gray area between investment and philanthropy.
Maybe answers lie in our own past. Around the turn of the 20th century, individuals with impressive foresight knew concrete protection was needed to save the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem from human development, notably Horace Albright and John D. Rockefeller Jr. They poured time and money into the effort. Their prescient actions led to a long fight at the local, state and federal level to establish and expand Grand Teton National Park.
They left us a globally admired conservation legacy, from which the majority of the tourism business in town depends even as we now busily undermine it from all sides. They understood what would be lost. They understood cost is not always measured in dollars and percent profits. And that once something is lost, it’s lost forever.
I’m trying to prevent that from happening at 165 N. Glenwood, but I’ve done all I can, and we are still looking for funding. I believe this is still a community of stewards who can set the bar for others. Let’s set a new bar.