Gill family proposes parting out portion of cattle ranch for housing in South Park

JACKSON, Wyo. — The Gill family’s surprising proposal to put up to 488 homes on a section of their agricultural holdings in South Park will need a zoning change from commissioners and a buy-in from the general public.

For now, the thought of flipping a piece of cow pasture — once rumored for everything from a big box retailer, to another high school, to an IMAX theatre — into much-needed housing has the community buzzing.

Liz Brimmer introduced the project as High School Road Housing during a Board of County Commissioners voucher meeting earlier this week. Brimmer, a communications/PR specialist, and former county planner Susan Johnson unveiled the concept saying they would like to see the “meaningful and heartfelt” submission considered by the planning department “sooner rather than later.”

The proposal outlines two options for a 100-acre parcel at the northwest portion of the Gill cattle operations known as the Hereford Ranch at the corner of South Park and High School roads. The parcel was chosen by the Gill family due to its rocky nature making it a less productive grass producing lot for cattle.

It is also situated in what the applicant believes is the next logical place for a largescale housing development.

“The location is very well-suited to housing. It’s next to six existing schools, soon to be seven. This is the right place for some sort of density. Something will happen on this portion of land off High School Road,” Brimmer said.

Johnson added, “It is definitely supported by the Comp Plan. It would have density similar to Cottonwood but 50 acres less than Cottonwood. It is next to town, with access to a robust pathway system and START Bus transportation. It is an opportunity to take some of the traffic that comes from Alpine and Victor off the roads. All these people can maybe have an opportunity to make Jackson their home.”

The Gill family is offering two options with the 100 acres that is currently zoned a mix of Rural (74 acres) and Suburban (24 acres). A rezone to AR-TC would allow a developer to build smaller homes, limited by a maximum square footage, that would theoretically remain attainable due to their smaller size. That option also includes a gifting of 30-40 lots to Habitat for Humanity for the building of affordable housing.

In the second option appears, the family says they can today go ahead and build, by-right, 83 units with 12,000 square foot lots on the 26 acres zoned Suburban with no workforce housing. That scenario would allow for up to 4,200 square foot trophy homes and turn the cow patty field into something more similar to Indian Trails or H-H-R Ranches in Wilson.

Spokesperson Brimmer said, “Although both options are viable, Option 1 is preferred by the Gills due to the positive impact it would have on the supply of needed housing in the community without taxpayer subsidies. The Gill family strongly believes in the axiom: if you want a local community you need locals.”

Gill property proposed for redevelopment. Image: Courtesy High School Road Housing

Silent Genesis

The project was officially submitted to the planning department immediately following the BCC voucher meeting. To introduce such an ambitious project at a sleepy morning meeting during a public comment period normally reserved for non-agenda items like neighbor disputes was unconventional, some say.

Some have speculated it was a calculated gamble to get the housing project out in front of the process and in the public eye before planning staff and electeds could come up with reasons they don’t like it. With a community on the landowner’s side, it would be more difficult for county commissioners to object to a rezone or other greenlight decisions.

Polls show Larry Huhn’s proposed housing development on Hog Island — a similar idea — was popular with the community but ultimately voted down by elected officials.

Brimmer denied any intentionality behind the surprise presentation other than to say it was a way to fully engage everyone at the same time.

“The approach was to fully present, in a video’d and transparent forum, an applicant’s attempt to file an idea. The opportunity presented a wide-open transparent public process,” Brimmer said. “So, we went directly to planning staff, directly to the board of commissioners, and directly to the community.  It’s actually full engagement. Everyone is informed at the same time and requested to fully engage in how they want to see this parcel developed. This is a real opportunity to have an active dialogue with the public on a section of land consistent with the Comp Plan. The opportunity to say what would be good, what would be great, what would be better than large lot homes.”

The process did, however, leave the county’s Affordable Housing Department out of the loop. Director April Norton said she did not feel snubbed by the decision to go exclusively with Habitat on workforce housing but did say she worried about the project’s other single-family homes remaining affordable.

“We see what’s happened in Rafter J and Cottonwood,” she said, referring to escalating real estate values.

Brimmer said the notion to go with Habitat was because of the organization’s strong track record in delivering more Category 1-type housing for the neediest segment of the community.

Now what?

Rezoning would be the next logical step. Legacy properties like the Gill holdings were left out of the recent countywide rezone in compliance with LDR updates stemming from the 2012 Comp Plan. An upzone at the 100-acre Gill parcel at South Park and High School roads would appear to be in keeping with the Comp Plan’s desire to identify complete neighborhoods as appropriate places for increased density.

Planning director Chris Neubecker has received a formal application and assigned staffer Christy Malone to work with the applicants. Brimmer said she hopes to get on an agenda as early as mid-March.

The potential 488-home subdivision would include amenities like new pathways, playgrounds, and pocket park. The applicant is also reaching out to St. John’s Health, Game and Fish Department, and potentially others about partnering in the project.

As for Teton Habitat, 30-40 lots would be the largest donation it has ever received.

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