BCC: Neighborhood plan should come before Gill rezoning

JACKSON, Wyo. — The proposal by the Gill family that asked for an upzone in northern South Park in exchange for workforce housing was denied Tuesday at a special meeting of the county commissioners.

The deal was sweetened in the 11th hour by the Gill Family with the announcement they would ‘gift’ 50 additional lots to the Jackson Hole Community Housing Trust, over and above the 30-40 lots extended to Teton Habitat.

It was not enough to sway commissioners who voted 4-1 (with conditions), 5-0 (without) against a spot zone, or contract zone, as the practice of negotiating zone changes is referred to by county attorney Keith Gingery. Gingery has repeatedly questioned the legality of such a decision, something that ultimately frightened off Greg Epstein, who has been a staunch proponent of getting workforce housing on the ground quickly in South Park.

“My concern is ultimately time. It may seem like this is the fastest way to get housing in the ground but I have grave concerns we are going to get litigated. And this will end up being a much longer process,” Epstein said, of a potential lawsuit should the BCC grant concessions for the Gill family.

Epstein said he is also concerned about water/sewer issues and water quality in general—issues that were not reasonably fleshed out in the application.

Mark Newcomb worried about a precedent-setting nature of a one-off concession to a large landowner in South Park and the Pandora’s Box it could open for other property owners in the future should they too look to develop.

Newcomb also assured those desperate for housing that numerous projects are recently finished, coming online soon, or in the pipeline. He mentioned The Grove, 91 units at Sagebrush Flats, Parks & Rec housing, Hidden Hollow, Westview Townhomes, 174 N. King, 440 W. Kelly, Mercill, and South Park housing projects as examples of hundreds of affordable units put into inventory in the last few years.

“There is housing underway; a tremendous amount of housing,” Newcomb said, acknowledging that much of it, if not all, was multi-family dwellings and the county was in dire need of stand-alone homes.

Newcomb also wanted to see a completed transportation plan before okaying anything in South Park. Additionally, he expressed concerns about water quality in the valley.

Luther Propst agreed the future of housing in Jackson Hole was likely South Park, but he did not want to put the cart before the horse with development ahead of the neighborhood planning process for the area between the town boundary and the Rafter J subdivision.

“This is definitely the right place for workforce housing, I just have real concerns about the process,” Propst said. “I would be more comfortable doing a traditional neighborhood plan and piggyback zoning on that. Transportation, wastewater management…they all remain unresolved this way. I want us to do this in the best way. I’m not comfortable shoehorning this approval.”

Chair Natalia Macker agreed. She expressed her “heartburn over “diluting or jeopardizing goals for a neighborhood by prioritizing a piece of it.”

Only Mark Barron was ready to approve a zoning change on Tuesday, even though he admitted it was a “strange request.” He lamented the inflexibility of the county’s land development regulations and tools, and pointed increasing traffic in the valley due, in part, to commuters.

“We can’t ignore 8,000 commuter trips in Jackson Hole every day,” Barron said.

In his dissent commentary, Barron used the floor to encourage the Gills not to give up.

“You saw a vote here that didn’t meet your expectations. Clearly the board here feels a neighborhood plan needs to come first,” he said. “I would hope everybody would be patient. July 31, 2021 is the conclusion date for that neighborhood plan. It will be here before you know it. I think this board would love to see a plan then.”

The proposal by the Gill family would have guaranteed that 200 lots would be permanently deed restricted. Image: Courtesy Teton County
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