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South Park development hanging in the air as Comp Plan updates ready for public

JACKSON, Wyo. – Long-range planning director Tyler Sinclair teed up Monday’s special joint meeting of the town council and county commissioners by saying there was no right or wrong order of discussing the items on the agenda that included 2012 Comp Plan updates, the FY21 Work Plan, and land use planning as it pertains to northern South Park.

Electeds have been interested in only one topic of discussion since the Gill family proposed workforce housing for South Park (followed by a similar announcement from the Lockhart family) and they zeroed in on it from the get-go.

To start Monday’s JIM, councilman Arne Jorgensen’s suggestion his peers start with a big picture, 30,000-foot view of the Comp Plan. “We’ve got a lot of work in on this. We’re really close on the Comp Plan,” he said.

That notion was cast aside as commissioner Mark Barron went straight for the jugular to address the elephant in the room that is development in northern South Park.

“I’m very frustrated with this process right now,” Barron said, referencing 440 Kelly and the Rains property as examples of how hard it has become for the town and county to work together even when they mostly all agree workforce housing is needed. “The county wants to get housing on the ground quickly. And I, frankly, don’t have a lot of confidence we will be able to work together on this. I am at a loss as to why the town insists on taking the lead.”

Mayor Pete Muldoon shot back.

“I find it somewhat ludicrous to hear the town is not interested in housing,” he said.

Greg Epstein agreed, finding common ground amongst 10 divergent opinions was going to be difficult. As an olive branch he suggested any development in northern South Park be done to town standards (zoning, building codes, water/sewer hookup).

“I look at the way our conversations have gone over the last 12 months and honestly don’t think we are going to find a way forward,” he said. “Using town standards and zoning on a parcel adjacent to town is necessary for the success of this development and the development of northern South Park. It’s not a tactic. It’s a way to get housing on the ground before the next decade. Allow us to move forward. I’m pleading with the council at this point to let the county take the lead on this and get some housing for the community.”

Councilman Jonathan Schechter noted, “The tensions [on display tonight] reveal our problems. There is no other place where there is such an obvious interface between the town and county. We really can’t screw this up.”

And away they went.

Comp Plan revision process. Image: TOJ

Coming to the middle of a Monday night

A possible outcome from Monday’s JIM could have been a release of two different Comp Plan update documents, differing on who thought they would take the lead on building northern South Park and whether that development would include an east-west connector road.

While no one has overtly suggested annexation of a portion of South Park into town, the notion hangs in the air at every meeting. Whether or not that eventually happens, town electeds want a seat at the table because, for one, it will be town that will have to deal with the impacts of additional housing in South Park, Muldoon mentioned.

The bending required to find an agreement was to start with county commissioners agreeing any development would be done to town standards and specifications, something Epstein and Barron were more than amenable to.

But that was not enough for Muldoon who felt the town’s voice would get squashed if wording in a Comp Plan or Work Plan stated that town would have only a consulting role on development in northern South Park.

“I don’t want to give up our ability to be an equal voice,” Muldoon said. “I don’t necessarily see 65% of workforce housing in these plans. I also want to see the details on how we will deal with the traffic and climate impacts of it. I want a say in the last piece of greenfield of development in this county. We have to get this right.”

Councilman Jim Stanford reminded Barron, a former mayor of Jackson, that the town and county had a 30-year history of working together to build the community. Stanford pointed out the importance of working together.

“A lot of constituents don’t know the difference between the board of county commissioners or the town council…and they don’t care. They want us to talk as one community,” he said.

And together they came. For the most part.

Councilwoman Hailey Morton Levinson helped get the ball across the goal line when she explained her thinking on a vote to move forward with a rough draft of the 2012 Comp Plan updates for public review and comment.

“I’m trusting of the process. It’s human nature to want to know the end result before we’ve even started. Obviously, we can’t know the end. But let’s move it to the public for now,” she said.

The vote was called. The county was unanimous. Muldoon and Schechter were holdouts in the town vote but it passed 3-2.

The public will soon get its chance to weigh in on the new 2012 Comprehensive Plan and what they want to see in South Park.

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