The current controversy over the Gill family’s zoning map amendment application is a complicated community issue. Given the pressures we face regarding upholding our Comprehensive Plan’s three common values of ecosystem stewardship, quality of life and growth management, some additional context and facts are in order.

Our joint Jackson/Teton County Comprehensive Plan is a democratically derived vision in the common interest that our community has committed to, not once but multiple times over many years. Land use planning consistent with those aspirations comprises a set of integrated, future-oriented actions aimed at protecting the health, safety and welfare of all our citizens. Not just some, but all.

The current county subarea covering northern South Park calls for neighborhood planning. Unlike piecemeal subdivision approvals, neighborhood planning integrates a full range of issues, including but not limited to land use and housing types; transportation; open space; environmental protection, including water, air and other locally appropriate natural resource issues such as wildlife habitat and movement corridors; and other community needs and amenities.

Let’s set some things straight about the current zoning change proposal. The terms “workforce housing” and “affordable housing” are not the same.

Workforce housing may or may not be affordable. The Gill zoning map amendment proposal includes 65% of approximately 312 total lots to be deed-restricted for workforce housing. The argument that waiting for neighborhood planning will increase construction costs overlooks the reality that costs are already far beyond most of those in need of affordable workforce housing.

According to the Jackson/Teton County Affordable Housing Department 2018 Annual Housing Report, 67% of people applying for housing are one- and two-person households. This represents a misalignment of supply and demand. The proposed subdivision of single-family homes of around 2,500 square feet and up with the potential — but not the guarantee — of accessory residential units being built falls far short of helping to solve the misalignment.

The Gills have generously offered to provide a gift of 30 to 40 lots to Habitat for Humanity of the Greater Teton Area. Unfortunately, the proposed zoning map amendment would prohibit all but single-family dwellings and ARUs, limiting Habitat’s capacity to reach an optimum number of those in need of affordable housing through construction of multihousehold structures.

We should be doing our best to make housing affordable to all of our residents who add to the social vibrancy of our community: growing families; those who are single either by choice or due to life circumstances; those who want or need to downsize their living space because the families they raised have left home; those who are retired and on fixed incomes but have worked in and contributed to this community during their careers; seniors who are still working; and those with a range of special needs. All deserve the opportunity for stable, reliable and affordable housing.

The 2015 Jackson/Teton County Workforce Housing Action Plan notes that ARUs are useful for responding to our affordable housing demand, and indeed they are. At the same time, ARUs as rentals represent a potentially unstable form of housing for those seeking long-term reliability through ownership. The action plan also lists a diversity of creative housing types and tools such as condominiums, townhomes, apartments and microhousing in a mix of ownership and rental choices. Most of these housing types are prohibited by the proposed zoning map amendment. Neighborhood planning, however, has the potential to implement new zoning tools and regulations to provide housing variety that meets the broadest range of demand.

Full build-out in northern South Park may, by some calculations, be as high as 1,000 new homes. That represents a major population increase with an equally dramatic increase in daily vehicle trips along High School Road. We need to do everything we can to best assure the safety of students and others walking, biking and driving by undertaking transportation planning and action as part of neighborhood planning, which takes into account what full build-out will require.

There are increasing conditions of impaired surface and groundwater sources in the valley. Whether it’s 700 or 1,000 or some other number in terms of new lots and homes at northern South Park build-out, it will be substantial. We need to be thinking about potential impacts on down-aquifer wells and developing plans for surface water and aquifer protection as part of our responsibility to the health, safety and welfare of our community.

While the projected problems listed are hypothetical, it is essential that we identify them on the front end in order to deal with them effectively. It should be noted that the benefits to the community represented by the proposed zoning map amendment are also hypothetical.

St. John’s Health Board of Trustees voted Aug. 27 to support neighborhood planning, which the town and county are expediting to optimize the development of northern South Park.

Neighborhood planning can help identify the best and most innovative solutions to our housing needs while sustaining our three Comprehensive Plan common values of ecosystem stewardship, quality of life and growth management. It also gives the Gills an even better opportunity to enhance their contribution to the community while developing their property if they so choose.

It’s a win-win solution for Northern South Park property owners and the community as a whole.

Sue Lurie has a master’s degree in community and regional planning and a doctorate in natural resource policy and management. She has worked as a community development land use planner in the past. She is a member of the Teton County Planning Commission; however, the views expressed are hers individually and should not be construed as representing the Planning Commission as a whole. Guest Shots are solely the opinion of their author.

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