Jackson Hole Classical Academy clears one hurdle toward new campus in South Park

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – As expected, the bid to put a private school on a parcel in South Park turned into an all-day slugfest as the matter has taken on broad interest among members of the community.

Owl Happenings LLC (more commonly known as the Jackson Hole Classical Academy) is pursuing a text amendment to the LDRs in order to alter hours of operation and allow for a larger building size in an area zoned as Rural-1.

The school says it is both considering expansion and faced with more immediate concerns of relocation due to an expiring lease on the grounds it currently occupies at the end corner of High School Road and South Park Loop Road.

Opposition to the development proposal has largely zeroed in on the process, not necessarily the school itself, which many public commenters made sure to mention at the five-hour meeting of the Board of County Commissioners Tuesday. The process involving the use of a text amendment means a decision about JHCA could have broader implications in other rural areas throughout the county zoned R-1.

One group—Friends of South Park—has paid for newspaper ads and rallied support from neighbors who have challenged the proposal on several fronts including environmental and traffic impacts. Other individuals including Rich Bloom have brought legal action challenging the county planning director’s approval of an environmental analysis.

Two parcels in South Park where JHCA hopes to build new campus. (Teton County GIS)

Time and space

At Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners tackled first the relatively easier of the two text amendments: altering hours of operation. Hours of activity allowed currently in R-1 and R-2 zones stipulate 9am to 11pm. Owl Happenings is proposing those rules also include allowing daycares, nurseries and educational institutions to run 7am to 10pm.

Concerns about the disruption of migrating big game at early hours were brought up frequently during public comment. But that was only a portion of where the discussion wandered until BCC chair Mark Newcomb sternly warned anyone who got off-track would be cutoff and escorted by law enforcement from the chambers.

With the planning commission recommending approval of the hours of operation change and the planning director recommending denial, commissioner Natalia Macker began the discussion by saying she found the amendment consistent with the intent of the LDRs, content with tweaks she said were for the purposes of practicality and functionality.

Paul Vogelheim agreed, saying the so-termed ‘sideboards’ of the regulations have changed, but “we still have sideboards.”

Newcomb expressed concern about variable time starts throughout the rural zone, lending to what he thought would be less predictability for landowners.

Commissioner Greg Epstein said he felt comfortable knowing any future developments in R-1 or R-2 zones would have to go through a rigorous case-by-case CUP (Conditional Use Permit) process where the BCC would have unilateral control of the application process.

In making six findings, commissioners generally agreed they could with Newcomb hesitating on a few:

  1. Is consistent with the purposes and organization of the LDRs
  2. Improves the consistency of the LDRs with other provisions of the LDRs
  3. Provides flexibility for landowners within standards that clearly define desired character
  4. Is necessary to address changing conditions, public necessity, and/or state or federal legislation
  5. Improves implementation of the Comprehensive Plan
  6. Is consistent with other adopted County Resolutions

With the exclusion of nurseries, the BCC voted 4-1, with Newcomb opposed, to allow a text amendment to the R-1 LDRs altering hours of operation to 7am-10pm for schools and daycares.

Out of time

Next up for Owl Happenings and the JHCA is the more contentious of two proposed text amendments—this one to allow for a 30,000-sf building where a 10,000-sf structure is the largest currently allowed.

According to the county planning department, the single building limit has been 10,000 sf since 1994. The single building limit requires that sites allowed more than 10,000 square feet must break up the mass into multiple buildings. The single building maximum was established to retain the rural, ranch compound character when developing in rural areas.

The applicant’s representatives contend the intent of current rural zoning regs regarding max building size was to limit residential homes and fail to consider things the community may desire like larger barns or equestrian centers, gymnasiums, church assembly halls, performance halls, or assisted living facilities.

Further, Owl Happenings says breaking up the total square footage into several smaller buildings rather than one large one is more detrimental to the free movement of through the property and severely inefficient from an architectural design and functional perspective. Heating one building rather than three is a more environmentally considerate option, the school’s representative claim.

The BCC ran out of time to discuss the second text amendment. The board made arrangements to continue the agenda item to January 3, 2019 in the hopes that the sitting commission may decide the matter. Two new commissioners—Mark Barron and Luther Propst—will be sworn in on January 7.

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