Town, county reluctantly reduce mitigation rates

JACKSON, Wyo. — Similar to discussions around northern South Park housing development ahead of Comp Plan updates, town and county electeds are also feeling pressure to adjust housing mitigation rates even before a comprehensive Nexus study (in support of the new Work Plan) is released that should provide hard data on all things housing in Teton County.

The impetus to again tinker with housing mitigation rates has less to do with how effective or ineffective they have been since they were ratcheted higher just two years ago, and more to do with warnings from local lawmakers who say the county is dangerously close to losing the tool altogether when the state legislature meets next session.

“We’re here because Cheyenne got involved,” said commissioner Arne Jorgensen who expressed frustration at state-level interference.

Mitigation rates are a tool used by planners to incentivize certain desirable types of development while ‘penalizing’ others like a commercial building, and making those projects house the employees they will generate or pay a hefty fee in lieu.

In theory, forcing developers to mitigate projects that exacerbate Jackson’s affordable housing shortage would help balance demand for employees with more workforce housing supply where those employees might be able to live. In reality, critics say when mitigation rates are too high, it stifles development and stagnates the economy.

The Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce, along with numerous local businesspeople, have bemoaned the higher rates since the hike in 2018.

Back then, commissioner Mark Barron, who owns High Country Linens and Blue Spruce Cleaners, said, “This is definitely a no-growth piece of legislation. Costs on this are beyond anybody’s ability for anyone who lives and works here. Only high-end developers who have no interest in this community will be able to afford to build here.”

Grumblings reached Cheyenne last session when House Bill 22 promised to all but gut Teton County’s affordable housing program by choking off its funding via mitigation rates. The measure failed thanks in great part to the efforts of Rep. Andy Schwartz, who recently warned the town and county the battle is far from over.

How they voted

Joint boards considered a range of reduction in mitigation rates at Tuesday’s JIM—from 25% to 50% to 75% reductions. Town and county electeds could not agree on how much but the consensus was something had to be done to lower rates.

From mayor Pete Muldoon’s opinion that no adjustment should take place from a policy standpoint, to vice mayor Hailey Morton Levinson’s suggestion that 50% seemed appropriate to her, the 10 electeds started the pendulum swing at 25%.

“This is bad policy. It ignores all the complexities of a long discussion and decision we made over 18 months,” Muldoon said.

Commissioner Mark Newcomb, who feared “whiplash” in tweaking policy too far too fast, initially suggested a 25% reduction that was tweaked up to 37.5% after Luther Propst suggested it would not be enough to keep the state from meddling with local decision-making. It failed a vote.

Commissioner Greg Epstein highlighted the limitations of mitigation rates to close the gap between job growth and work, sharing that he thought many new jobs in Jackson Hole are being created in ways other than physical development.

Epstein also worried about theoretical math being applied to real-life situations.

“If nobody is developing anything, we are not mitigating anything or getting any new housing out of that, and I know for a lot of you no growth is what you want, and that is great,” he said.

Eventually, a vote for 50% reduction in mitigation rates narrowly passed 3-2 with both bodies. Commissioners Newcomb and Propst were in dissent with councilmembers Jonathan Schechter and Jim Stanford—all believing that number too high.

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