Town, county split on housing developments

JACKSON, Wyo. — Town and county boards agreed to disagree over two workforce housing projects, splitting the baby on 430/440 West Kelly in town and the Rains property on the West Bank.

At a joint meeting Monday, officials reconsidered a previous stalled motion to go their separate ways on two distinct housing projects. Previously, the town council and the board of county commissioners (BCC) could not agree on how to proceed with 430/440 West Kelly. During the discussions, several of the 10 electeds talked about essentially swapping two properties slated for housing. Both appeared to be non-performing real estate assets for either entity which are hung up on zoning or other intricacies.

After a reconsideration brought by commissioner Mark Newcomb, the BCC voted 4-1 Monday (with Mark Barron opposed) to authorize the Jackson Teton County Housing Authority to transfer ownership of 3590 North Kennel Lane (commonly referred to as the “Rains” property) to Teton County and 430/440 West Kelly to the Town of Jackson.

Town councilman Jim Stanford voiced his opposition although he did not have a vote in BCC’s reconsideration.

“I thought we had put this to rest. We are a small community. Jackson is part of Teton County. People expect us to make decisions together. This is a shortcut to selling the Rains property. I’m not interested in shortcuts,” Stanford said. “If this is the direction everybody wants to go, I think it is a lousy idea.”

Stanford added that if the town was then shut out of a say on the Rains property, he, for one, would like to explore defunding the Housing Authority as far as the town contributes to that department.

Barron also disagreed with splitting over the inability to get anything on the ground at West Kelly. “Checks and balances are important,” he said. “I don’t believe separating one board from another is moving forward. These decisions should be difficult. The only thing stopping us is the clock. We keep running out of time.”

“I couldn’t disagree more,” BCC chair Natalia Macker responded. “We’ve done the joint planning and we are now at the point of separate execution. We should allow ourselves the ability to course-correct.”

Newcomb added that he did not agree the solution was a way for the county to fast-track the sale of the Rains property. He also did not see the decision as a “divorce,” per se.

Future of Rains and Kelly

Comparison of the two properties.

It just so happened that an opportunity to get free of the Rains property would be on the agenda later that same JIM on Monday. The Weiss family, who own much of the land surrounding 3590 North Kennel Lane, made an offer on November 1, 2019 to purchase the 5-acre parcel for $1.4M. The property had been listed by the Housing Authority for $2.2M. It was purchased in 2007 using SPET funds for $1.95M.

The three-way power play pitted the Weiss family’s desire to kill any workforce housing in the neighborhood against the town’s overall desire to have the county bear some of the burden of housing and not dump everything in town against the county’s desire to make something (anything) happen after owning the vacant property for nearly 13 years now.

Phelps Swift on behalf of the Weiss family said the offer was a fair one, even though it would mean the HA would eat some $600k on the deal.

“There’s a lot of blue sky in your listing price,” Phelps said. “It was purchased in 2007 with no oversight. They paid a million over the price of the market at that point. It was ill-conceived when they bought it, still ill-conceived today, and it will be 10 years from now if you ever build on it.”

Phelps added that “throwing 26 to 33 homes” on that parcel would not be in keeping with the current neighborhood character and “everyone on Teton Village Road would not be happy” about it.

With the fate of the parcel soon to be at the discretion of the county only—as previously decided and pending paperwork—town reps took a final opportunity to urge their county peers to resist the itch to sell off the property and think about building housing on it.

Mayor Pete Muldoon said though he was in favor of listing the Rains property, he wasn’t thrilled with the lowball offer and still wanted to see it developed into affordable housing of some kind. Councilman Johnathan Schechter said the earlier decision to split on the Rains and Kelly parcels “set a series of dominoes in motion and this [was] the first one.”

Stanford said he was going to take one last opportunity to voice his opinion on the West Bank property.

“The sad fact, the plain fact of the matter is West Bank residents create just as many impacts, if not more, on this community than the residents who live in town. Yet, we who live in town, the citizens of town, are being asked to shoulder all of the impacts and all of the housing has to go in town,” Stanford lamented. “We have lacked the resolution to follow through on [developing housing in appropriate areas in the county]. The [lost] opportunity to build on housing for our community on five acres would be a colossal whiff for our Housing Department, who’ve let this go.”

Commissioner Barron interjected. “I would have loved to hear these sentiments about developing in appropriate places in the county, outside of the town, when a private citizen came forth with 84 acres of one hundred percent deed-restricted land for this community at no cost to the public,” he said, referring to Larry Huhn’s rejected offer to build affordable housing at Hog Island.

Both the town and county properties (West Kelly and Rains) will have their fate decided at future meetings of each respective board.

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