Neighbors force scaleback, better integration of apartment complex on West Kelly

JACKSON HOLE, WYO — Joint town and county elected officials are looking to perhaps scale back their plans for a workforce housing project slated for 440 West Kelly Avenue in Jackson.

During Monday’s JIM, councilors and commissioners finalized authorization on a project partner with builders Roller/Tack but asked the developer to come back with better integrated streetscape and more detailed plans on what a 12-unit project might look like as opposed to the 16-unit plan originally submitted.

Pushback from neighbors on the proposed increase in density was significant enough that several electeds said they were uncomfortable with the project as proposed. Some said they would like to see a minimum of 10 units there, but an amendment to that effect failed to materialize.

Neighborhood watch

Longtime Jackson architect Bruce Hawtin was among many in the community to express his opposition to the housing development.

“I am astounded that you would ever consider a three story, 16 unit, 30-plus foot high townhouse project as being appropriate for 440 West Kelly Avenue. Those two blocks of West Kelly Avenue have been an established neighborhood for a long time and this building will have a devastating impact on their quality of life, not to mention their property values,” Hawtin blasted. “Is this the precedent you want to establish? What possibly could be next? This effort in other areas of the Town of Jackson could substantially, in time, alter the quality of life as we know it today.”

Neighbors Perri Stern, Dick and Judy Greig, and Bridger Call all also suggested the town and county slow down and scale back their plans to add density to West Kelly.

Sandy Shuptrine, who ran for a seat on the Board of County Commissioners, urged leaders to consider unintended consequences and resist chasing job growth at all costs.

“My question is what kind of environment is being created for people in our western town. Is a bed the overriding consideration? Have you been keeping up with the news of the last week regarding human impacts on the essential components of our planet?  I hope you will choose being truly ‘sustainable’ over trying to accommodate every humans’ need or want,” Shuptrine wrote elected officials. “While we wish to do well by our workforce, I question whether it should be the sacrifice of quality of life and community character.”

Done deal

Give town and county leaders credit. Monday should have been a done deal. Electeds were being asked to confirm the developer of choice Roller/Tack Development and sign off on a 16-unit apartment complex that was already a compromise from what could have been some 25 units on the double lot. Roller/Tack was the choice of both the Housing Supply Board and Housing Director April Norton.

Increased density on West Kelly was identified and approved in July 2018 when the neighborhood was rezoned to NH-1. The time to for neighbors to rise up and be heard on housing density was long gone, councilman Jim Stanford said.

“It’s unfortunate that many of the sincere and well thought out arguments about the character of the neighborhood I agree with. I live just east of this neighborhood on the same street,” Stanford admitted. “But we needed to hear these more than a year ago during rezoning,” he said

West Kelly was targeted for more density through an 18-month process of rezoning all of the town of Jackson. The need to provide affordable housing choices was balanced with a free market real estate boon that has made sellers out of longtime homeowners and sent local buyers to newspaper rental pages.

According to town staff, in the 440 W. Kelly Ave neighborhood a single-family home built in 1962 was recently purchased for around $700,000, which is approximately twice what a family of four earning 100% of median income can afford. That same home was then remodeled over a 9-month timeframe and sold for $1,287,500 after only one showing.

But pushback from neighbors planted a seed of apprehension with the joint boards that forcing the issue may leave a bad aftertaste down the road when pursuing future projects. Some wanted to go back to the drawing board with both finalist developers with a 10-unit project. Others said they could live with a 12-unit complex but not 16. Others, still, said 16 was the minimum and pointed to the fiduciary responsibility of local government to get the most bang for the taxpayer buck.

How they voted

Councilwoman Hailey Morton Levinson led the charge to move forward with the project. She refused to consider anything less than 12 units.

“Given public comment, I bring forth a motion with two different-sized projects,” Morton Levinson said. “I wouldn’t be in support of less than 12 looking at zoning there, price for land in general, and knowing that if we want to house folks this is how we do it.”

Mayor Pete Muldoon also is adamant about reaching for the higher end as far as density.

“When I ran for mayor, I remember saying over and over again how important it was to me that a community was about its people. I like the old buildings as much as anybody. I’ve lived in a lot of them over the years. I know a lot of them very intimately from the inside-out. I do like the way the town used to look,’ Muldoon said, beginning a long pro-housing grandstand at Monday’s meeting. “But what’s more important to me and a lot of other people are the people who live here and work here. Our friends, families, coworkers, the bank teller, the teacher, the nurse, the firefighter, the childcare provider, restaurant services—these people are why I stay here in Jackson. If the people leave and the buildings stay, I’m not interested in staying here.”

Muldoon added, “We can’t have it all. We can’t say no to sprawl without finding a place for housing in town. We know it’s not what everyone wants but there’s no free lunch here.”

Acknowledging “an awful lot of public feedback,” Stanford said he would rather scale back massing a bit and was looking more at the 12-unit iteration.

“I agree with many sentiments expressed. I haven’t been enamored with some things about his proposal,” Stanford said. “I generally favor a more incremental approach toward development in this kind of neighborhood.”

Commissioner Mark Barron agreed, saying, “Transitional [neighborhood] means it should be beginning to move to that highest density. It doesn’t demand we start at that highest density.”

Councilman Jonathan Schechter was concerned mainly with the negative impacts of approving something the majority of the neighbors hated.

“My concern is that we will set back efforts on affordable housing because of strong backlash from the community, and the next one will be that much harder next time,” he said. “The number of units is less critical to me than how it looks from the street and how it performs in the neighborhood.”

Schechter also suggested Norton walk the neighborhood and knock on doors to make sure neighbors at least felt like they were being heard.

Like Schechter, commissioner Luther Propst worried about the implications of 440 W. Kelly on future housing projects.

“I feel like the proposals before us are too much mass, too much scale, too much height. It’s not worth the backlash because it will not make a significant dent in our housing crisis and will make it harder for us to do things on larger parcels elsewhere,” Propst said. “We need to move forward in a manner that builds confidence. I don’t want to be pennywise and pound foolish, and pack too much on one parcel.

Commissioner Mark Newcomb admitted the kind of change coming to West Kelly is hard to accept. He also talked about the elephant in the room: a residential maximum capacity of some kind in Teton County. He worried that houses built now will be filled not only by our existing workforce but outsiders hoping to move here. “Every single one of the 350 realtors in this valley has a rolodex filled with the names of families that would love to live in Jackson,’ Newcomb said.

But given his own penchant for slowing growth, Newcomb acknowledged there are only so many areas slated for increased and West Kelly is one, even if it didn’t feel right to him.

“In the county, we have one rural transitional area to go for more housing. In the town—maybe there are two,” Newcomb said. “Still, it is really hard for me to accept that this is a transitional neighborhood moving to higher density. This feels like a huge amount of density.”

Commissioner Epstein agreed something less than 16 units might be more appropriate for West Kelly. He suggested looking at 10 units there.

Councilman Arne Jorgensen wanted the distinction made between “units” and bedrooms but agreed to a lesser number than 16.

A motion to ask Roller/Tack to come back with two options (a 12-unit and a 16-unit apartment complex) and a better streetscape was approved by the county on a 3-2 vote with Barron and Propst opposed. It passed the town unanimously.

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