JACKSON HOLE, WYO –In a special meeting convened with 24 hours notice, town council voted 4-0 to place a 180 day moratorium on new development involving affordable housing mitigation.
As the town works toward implementing new housing rules and regulations—especially as those rules will affect developers via mitigation rates for employee and affordable housing—electeds said they wished to avoid a “land rush” on developers looking to get in “under the wire” with new large-scale projects like restaurants or hotels by placing a freeze on all applications being accepted by the planning departments for which affordable housing standards or employee housing requirements would apply.
The measure was made without the normal three public readings and put into effect immediately. Councilors made the findings to declare an emergency situation—defined by state statute as “an ordinance operating for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, safety or welfare, in which the emergency is defined.”
Such a determination needs a ¾ vote to pass. With four councilmembers present, it meant a simple majority vote. A 4-0 decision today also means even with a fifth councilman present and voting in opposition (Don Frank was absent), the moratorium would also pass.
The freeze will be in place through the summer building season until mid-September.
Several people in the packed room stepped forward to urge the council not to pass an emergency ordinance.
Public comment ran heavily opposed to the proposed moratorium. Some called it shocking, stunning, and uncalled for.
Serese Kudar stepped up to the podium, said simply, “This is unethical,” and sat back down.
Attorney and county planning commissioner Stefen Fodor said there existed no emergency at the moment and doubted whether the town had legal grounds to declare one even thought town attorney Audrey Cohen-Davis said it did.
Attorney Amberley Baker agreed with Fodor, adding that it was unfair and borderline sneaky to have a meeting so quickly scheduled right before spring break. “It might bring up questions of transparency,” she said.
Councilman Jim Stanford challenged that notion by reminding the room and those watching via livestream that talk of transparency, or a lack thereof, could begin and end with “the end run to Cheyenne” attempted by concerned parties within Teton County and backed by Fodor.
Stanford referred to potential legislation that would have essentially destroyed the affordable housing program in Teton County. Senate File 114, sponsored by Jim Anderson (Natrona), was brought because of concerns over rising housing exaction and mitigation rates. The bill failed to make it out of committee.
How they voted
Bob Lenz said he understands many in the community don’t like moratoriums and neither do the electeds like to use them. “But the community and this council has made [housing mitigation] a high priority,” he added.
Hailey Morton Levinson worried about the lasting effects major development could have on a future Jackson if approved in the next few months as town works on new mitigation rates. She said she could not look her constituents in the eye if, say, five years from now a large-scale development would have been approved and eventually built during the time town officials contemplated raising housing mitigation rates.
“I would hate to have to say, ‘Sorry, they got in under the wire,’” Morton Levinson said. “These are important questions and issues the whole community is grappling with right now.”
Stanford said he could make the findings that an emergency measure, though rare, was not without precedent and was needed. In his history, Stanford said he has seen before a moratorium placed in order to freeze activity while new policy was crafted. It is rare but not unusual, he said. “In the end the town will be better for this.”
Mayor Pete Muldoon challenged the idea that the council was trying to ram something through. “Clearly we have met the requirements and spirit of the law,” he said. “This was not a decision to be made during spring break. It is not spring break yet. People are still here.”