Development plans for Karns Meadow inch forward with new EA

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – Town council Monday reviewed a recently completed study on Karns Meadow in preparation for development by the Parks and Recreation Department at the urging of the Jackson Hole Land Trust. The council agreed to have the lengthy document looked over by the planning department and begin drafting a management plan for the park moving forward.

Momentum toward doing something with the meadow has been building in the past 3-5 years, according to town staffers. That has come mainly from the Land Trust, which holds easements on all seven tracts comprising the 42-acre property. From the perspective of the Land Trust, the park is underutilized and not what the Karns family had in mind when they sold the property to the town in 2003.

“The town’s enthusiasm for the meadow has waxed and waned since then,” said JHLT board chair Jason Snider, adding that the town recently listed Karns Meadow as 8th in its list of top 9 future priorities. “It has also come to our attention recently that Parks and Rec does not have allocated proper funding for the Karns Meadow Management Plan. The Land Trust has offered to help with resources for this in the past, but the reception has been lukewarm at best. Between the low priority ranking from town and the absence of funds, potentially, we grow more concerned that the Karns Meadow Project may be shelved for the foreseeable future.”

Snider also alluded to recent negative impacts resulting, presumably, from a report that local law enforcement is tacitly allowing squatters to live the meadows. He urged the council to get moving on a plan that would “make this treasure what it was truly meant to be—a natural park for all to safely enjoy and experience.”

For its part, Parks and Rec has been providing only the most basic land management on the property since 2003. This management has primarily involved contracting with Teton County Weed and Pest for noxious weed control, and annual trash pick-up of the site.

“Until recently, P&R has not been a major player on the property,” a staff report read.

Public Works, meanwhile, has made improvements around the eastern portion of the meadow relating to the treatment of wastewater and drinking water in and around the wetlands. A START Bus facility was placed in the western part of the meadow and a connector road between Broadway and Snow King Avenue was constructed. The town also made improvements in the center of the meadow relating to a municipal well with associated photovoltaic (solar panels) system.

Environment vs. Development

Virtually every rock was overturned and every blade of grass studied in the recently completed 212-page environmental assessment (EA) for Karns Meadow conducted by Megan Smith’s EcoConnect Consulting LLC. The report was entered into the record and briefly looked over by town staff and elected officials. The EA was a requirement made by town council some 18 months ago after the Jackson Hole Land Trust partnered with the town on future development plans for the meadow.

The analysis is the first step in moving forward with plans to develop the pristine wetland complex into a more user-friendly urban park. The unfettered lea also serves as a wildlife refuge for foxes, deer, and various bird species—a point driven home by the EA and noted by councilman Jim Stanford who displayed the most heartburn over any largescale changes that could jeopardize wildlife habitat.

Stanford lamented to his colleagues on the council, “Right here on the bottom of page 22 it reads: ‘The implementation of a loop, paved and lighted pathway through the meadow not only contradicts the stated goals of the Jackson/ Teton County Comprehensive Plan to protect and steward open space but may also have a negative impact on surrounding habitat.’”

Stanford admitted he was mildly surprised by and grilled town manager Larry Pardee on who ordered a levee to be constructed on the property. When Pardee said he wasn’t sure but thought it was a berm, Stanford shot back one man’s berm is another man’s levee, and he didn’t see why a significant land alteration was necessary if the town has simply been killing weeds for 16 years.

Stanford also pumped the brakes on Parks and Rec director Steve Ashworth who presented the EA report with the advice that his department get a go-ahead on properly caring for the property. That included a drafting of a management plan and approval of a Conditional Use Permit.

“Sometimes, there’s a belief if you just leave land alone it will just take care of itself. But to be good land stewards and to protect a land resource, sometimes good management is key,” Ashworth said. He added the best way to preserve and protect the meadow begins with a solid management plan. He wanted one in 3-4 months or by no later than the end of the year.

When questioned by Stanford, Ashworth was vague about why he was seeking a Conditional Use Permit (typically designated for largescale development projects not confirming to town LDRs), calling it the “best tool in the toolbox.” He said future site development and improvements could necessitate the use of a CUP “whether that development was very small or broadens out a little bit, it is truly a matter of effectively managing the property.”

Planning director Tyler Sinclair backed up Ashworth saying they were just erring on the side of caution whether a CUP would be needed or not.

“Weed prevention does not seem to warrant a CUP,” Stanford shot back.

A part of the executive summary of the EA states: “The distinct challenge is to maintain natural resource quality and wildlife connectivity through the property while upholding the easements’ conservation values in the face of increasing development pressures both on the property as well as from the surrounding area.”

It went on to caution users not to interpret any part of the document as a green light for rolling bulldozers.

“When considering development options on the property, it is essential to remember that allowable uses are just that, allowable. Allowable uses are not a checklist of development projects that need to be completed. For every allowable use that is implemented, there will be both seen and unforeseen impacts to the conservation values and purposes of the easements,” the report stated.

Stanford’s parting shot was a warning to involve the community and move thoughtfully.

“I think members of the public might be bowled over by the 212 pages of [this important document]. I know I was,” he said. “And when we talk about the original vision of the meadow, these are very tricky conversations. I support trying to remove weeds, we have marginal habitat on the verge of becoming worthless habitat. But this report might be giving us pause to be too gung-ho about development. Maybe that’s something we don’t all like to hear.”

Hailey Morton Levinson countered that “anything would be a use of Karns Meadow than what happens on it now if left alone in its urban setting.”

The council voted unanimously to have a management plan prepared by January 2020.

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