Housing project at 440 W. Kelly shot down

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – Discussion at Tuesday’s JIM was to decide on a final workforce housing product for 440 W. Kelly — what it might look like and whether it would be 12 or 16 units. In the end, after getting another earful from residents of the neighborhood who opposed the increased density for myriad reasons, the project was altogether derailed.

It was county electeds that came to the aid of townspeople living in the W. Kelly neighborhood where Roller/Tack was to have built workforce housing on a site purchased by the Town of Jackson in January for $1.7 million. The neighborhood had been upzoned to NH-1, the densest residential designation under town LDRs, in June 2018.

During meetings designated to discuss which building and design everyone liked, neighbors kept showing up to say they hated the whole idea. They were told various things along the way: It’s too late for that. Change is coming. The neighborhood has been classified as “transitional.”

Still, they kept coming and emailing and fighting.

“I’m astounded you would even consider NH-1 in this neighborhood. It would destroy the character in this neighborhood. It is inappropriate for this neighborhood,” commented Bruce Hawtin at Tuesday’s meeting, which was not scheduled for zoning discussion.

David Bott challenged the idea the neighborhood was one in transition, noting the last two properties to sell remained single-family homes.

“Not a single neighbor I’ve heard from is in favor of this. The pretty graphics do not show [the proposed apartment complex] in the context of houses next door. And you’ve already displaced six workers who live at 440 W. Kelly who are looking for housing right now,” Bott railed.

Perri Stern worried about increased traffic among other things. She said in one hour she counted 300 cars driving by on W. Kelly one afternoon between 5:15-6: 15 pm.

“I’ve lived in a lot of places but I’ve never lived in a town or city where the elected officials actively pursued strategies and attentions to drive families from a functional and stable neighborhood. To remake a neighborhood that does not need to be remade,” Stern added. “This is your legacy. A legacy of not being responsive to your constituents. A legacy of driving people from their homes as evidenced by the [recent] sale of property directly behind the 440 property. A legacy of destroying neighborhoods.”

Perri’s husband Michael also challenged elected officials, saying they were claiming to be following the guidelines of the Comp Plan regarding housing but actually ignoring the core values. He also compared upzones like NH-1 to the “failed model of 1960s urban renewal that destroyed historic neighborhoods in cities throughout the United States and led directly to the ghettoization of affordable housing,” he said.

“I’m not optimistic about outcome of this meeting because I don’t believe you are listening to your constituents,” Stern began at Tuesday’s meeting. “The Housing Department is using the current overheated real estate market to manipulate the outcome and create a culture of fear in the neighborhood, and an attitude of ‘get out while you can’ because it’s being ruined has caused property owners to flee as they see inevitable adverse changes.”

Affordable Housing Department director April Norton had started the meeting by reminding electeds of some recent real estate transactions in the neighborhood of W. Kelly that included lots selling for one to two million dollars.

Norton also admitted that to get to a stated target goal of housing 65% of the workforce locally, it would mean more density at the cost of losing what she termed “physical character.”

(J. Roller Development, Tack Development, Teton County)

How they voted

Councilman Arne Jorgensen began by telling the neighbors that showed up again and again to oppose 440 W. Kelly that he and the other electeds were listening but that their decisions may not always reflect that.

“I feel like the job we have documented within the Comp Plan is providing housing opportunities for everyone in this community. This is a neighborhood that is going to be in transition whether or not it is due to a project like this, or due to the rising housing costs you see in other neighborhoods like the Gill Addition,” Jorgensen said. “We are trying to provide housing for people that will live and work in this community for many, many years to come and that’s why I’m supporting this.”

Fellow councilmember Hailey Morton Levinson also supported the 16 unit version of workforce housing at 440 W. Kelly that included a good mix of types.

“When you look at human character and built character at odds… Today I’m choosing the human character,” she said, paraphrasing what has become a sort of mantra of Mayor Pete Muldoon, that he was more interested in protecting people than places. “The Gill Addition now feels like a loss of second homes that we are never going to get back for the workforce. We are losing these homes and opportunities.”

Muldoon said he would support 16 units or nothing. He was not interested in scaling back to 12 units, adding that 16 was already a compromise from 24 units originally presented and if 12 were the end result he would rather sell the land. He also cautioned his peers not to get sucked into a zoning debate when that was not the issue at hand.

“This was a working-class neighborhood. We know that but we also know it’s not going to stay that way. We are already seeing working-class homes being torn down and turned into homes for the unlimited number of wealthy people who can’t wait to move to Jackson because it’s a wonderful place,” Muldoon said. “We’ve got people living in trailers on Gregory, sleeping in beds on shifts and that’s unacceptable. It’s the right thing to do and I’m going to support it.”

Councilman Jim Stanford said he resisted the upzone all along and favored a more incremental approach to building workforce housing in town neighborhoods but would not use those as reasons to oppose the project.

“It would be easy for me to demonize what is happening here,” he admitted.

Councilman Jonathan Schechter had a few reasons for also voting against a 12- or 16-unit project at 440 W. Kelly.

“We will never meet the demand for housing in Jackson Hole,” he began, adding that he had been asked a profound question recently whether “we care more about the people who want to live here, or the people who already live here?”

Schechter also wondered whether the small size of the units would define them as transitional rather than housing members of the workforce for many years. “Are we about quantity or quality? Are we about housing or just warehousing workers?” he pondered.

County commissioners, however, voted the other way.

Mark Barron had said for years when he was town mayor that the county was forcing housing on the town with little in return.

“I believe this product, even in the 12-unit model, is overbuilt and underparked. I had asked for a 10-unit consideration but that didn’t make it through the cut. The snow storage on this is going to be wholly inadequate. It’s too much in the wrong place,” Barron said.

Commissioner Luther Propst agreed, speculating the development might be a myopic victory but hinder affordable housing efforts in the future by leaving a bad taste.

“I think this neighborhood will change. I think it should change and provide workforce housing. Affordable housing/workforce housing is core and critical to this valley, but I think this is too much for this site. This is too dense, too abrupt and it poses too many externalities such as snow storage on the neighbors,” he said.

Commissioner Greg Epstein said he was a no vote based on lack of snow storage or removal. He also did not think, even at 16 units, the lot was being used to its maximum potential.

Commissioners Natalia Macker and Mark Newcomb both said they would vote yes mainly because they were not willing to meddle with the town’s zoning. NH-1 was the rule of the land and a 16-unit project was well within the regs, they believed.

Newcomb said he struggled with the tradeoff of valuing workers or neighborhoods. He wondered whether 10 0r 12 units would be getting the most out of taxpayer dollars. He also expressed reluctance to meddle in the town’s zoning process.

“I will continue to value the rural character of the community, but we have to come to terms with the reality that these homes will be bought up by second family owners, hedge fund investors, and others. That will require more workers to support [these homes] who will live over the hill or down the river,” Newcomb warned but ended by saying he was a no vote.

The town council voted 3-2 in favor of a revised 16-unit development.

County leaders, however, flipped the vote, shooting down the workforce housing project 3-2, with Macker and Newcomb in favor.

The decision means the project is dead in the water for now. A future meeting will be scheduled to determine what the electeds now want to do with the property that has been deeded over to the joint Affordable Housing Department. Barring a reconsideration of some kind, it would appear the property would likely be put on the market.

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