JACKSON HOLE, WYO – The public meeting scheduled for today concerning property on a historic block near town square should be a doozy. But there’s more to know before you go—so many questions to be answered even ahead of arriving at property owner’s door with torch and pitchfork.
First off, who announces an important public meeting by tacking a cardboard sign to a tree? Hasn’t everyone heard of Buckrail or KHOL at this point? And why would an owner/investor/developer already hip-deep in controversy over his master plan to expand Snow King draw a bigger bullseye on his back by inviting the public to his own roast?
The town made him, that’s why.
If the owner of a property in Jackson wants to pursue a largescale project like a PUD, or an amendment to a master plan, or, in this case, a proposed change to zoning, he/she is required by the town to hold a public meeting to inform the ‘neighborhood’ and take a temperature.
Results of this open house, including the sign-in sheet, are then passed on to town planners. All this before an application will even be considered. So, technically, the town is currently mute on the issue until it officially appears on their radar and an agenda.
There are other things to know for those wishing to dive deeper than merely hunting for a villain.
Max C. Chapman Jr. owns the parcels in question—the lots that encompass current businesses including Café Genevieve, Persephone Bakery, and Healthy Being Juicery. As his right-hand man and VP of Gardner Capital Management, Jeff Golightly points out Chapman has owned the ‘block’ for a decade and has not developed or changed it in any way.
“At any point, from day one, there could have been a hotel bigger than the White Buffalo, for example,” Golightly said. “Current zoning would allow this and other large-scale development (up to 90,000 square feet) here but Max did not want that.”
So we come to zoning. For reasons known only to him, Chapman wants clear of the property now. Some speculate he needs to get more liquid in order to pump cash into Snow King. His Brooks Lake Lodge holding is also reportedly on the market.
A real estate deal is in the works. The property is currently under contract. Golightly would not identify the buyer. But the deal is contingent on an upzone.
Zoning out: Here’s where it gets complicated
As the town looks to wrap up land development regulations and zoning in support of a Comp Plan that is now six years old, property owners and developers have been in an uneasy limbo since at least 2014. The first thing a buyer or owner wants to know is: What can I do with this property? If that is in any way unclear, problems occur, lawsuits happen, and things get messy.
When the town finalized downtown District 2 zoning first (before moving to D1 and then D3-6) it pulled out Chapman’s property as well as Sweetwater and the Wort Hotel. This was done in the eleventh hour over town council anxiety concerning properties with historic structures. For instance, aggressive commercial zoning could very well mean a building rich in history like the Van Vleck House would be scraped for a massive hotel.
It certainly left the county’s Historic Preservation Board uneasy for starters.
Town planners have promised to circle back on these District 2 exclusions sometime in early 2019, but with a deal pending, Chapman wants a definitive answer now. And he has a point.
The ‘property on the block’ that includes Café Genevieve and Persephone is within the town’s Lodging Overlay and currently zoned UC (Urban Commercial). It’s a designation that identifies a parcel as being close to the core of downtown and therefore should have inherent density, bulk-and-scale, and commercial use.
But the UC zoning is labelled by town planners as “Legacy Zoning,” slated to be phased out in the new iteration of land development regulations. In many cases in Districts 1-2, UC has been replaced by DC (Downtown Core) where the property is in close proximity to downtown.
What Golightly says his group is asking for is not technically spot zoning but a clear definition ahead of the town’s scheduled rezoning of these properties that have been set aside for years now.
“I know the planning staff will tell us it is clear what can be done on this property—the zoning is UC,” Golightly acknowledged. “But the reality is it will not stay this way and by the time a new owner gets the first shovel in the ground for development here the zoning will be different.”
What’s the big deal about DC zoning compared to UC? Both allow for fairly large projects but DC definitely ups the entitlements to a developer. With DC zoning, building height maximums jump from 35 to 46 feet, meaning a developer can get more into his building while taking up the same footprint. There is also more favorable workforce housing bonuses associated with DC zoning.
So yes, it would likely make a property more lucrative to a developer.
Golightly says his group is well aware of concerns about the historical value attached to the buildings now housing Persephone, Healthy Being and especially Café Genevieve. In response, they are trying something that’s never been done.
Gardner Capital Management reached out to the Historic Preservation Board offering a unique proposal. They would deed restrict the treasured buildings—offering to move Persephone and Healthy Being to a “prominent location in the valley visible from a main road or highway” as well as keep Café Genevieve where it is, as it is.
“To my knowledge, no one has ever deed restricted a building,” Golightly said, adding that the board appears so far to be amenable to the plan.
A deed restriction would be attached to the property allowing for certain promises to carry over to a new owner. If agreed to, the Historic Preservation Board would then offer its recommendation of approval to the town for a DC zoning.
With fears that Chinese investors are looking to put in a massive Ritz-Carlton (that’s just one of the many rumors) the future of downtown Jackson has been in flux. The Center Street project is now underway, Hidden Hollow has broken ground to the north of town, and more development is slated for the neighborhoods just west of the parking garage.
With many viewing the Genevieve block as a symbolic, last vestige of old Jackson, this afternoon’s meeting will be the first of many high noon showdowns to come.
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