One by one last Wednesday evening, they stood, walked to the podium, took a deep breath, and told the Town of Jackson Planning and Zoning Commissioners their story.
They rose up and told stories of being young professionals struggling to plan for a family and future in Jackson due to the instability and uncertainty surrounding their housing situations. Stories about how they as small local business owners are suffering because they keep losing employees who can’t afford to live here. Stories from nonprofit leaders exhausted from continually having hard working families coming to them in tears after being priced out of yet another home. Stories of people who have fallen in love with this place and this community and just want to find a way to stay.
For the past few years, hundreds of your friends and neighbors have repeatedly told similar stories to our local elected representatives as they’ve worked to update zoning regulations for downtown Jackson, also known as District 2. These stories have worked.
Last summer, the Town Council was considering proposed zoning changes for District 2 that wouldn’t have provided anywhere near enough housing affordable to people who work here while encouraging a dramatic expansion of commercial development, lodging, short-term rentals, and higher-end condos (i.e. second homes), generating new low-wage jobs, staffed by new low-wage employees, who need new affordable places to live.
Hundreds of people in our community rose up and told their story, asking our local elected representatives to prioritize our community’s middle class over more new Marriotts. Thankfully, they listened.
In January, the Jackson Town Council and Teton County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously in support of planning staff’s recommendation to not add additional commercial and lodging development potential on top of the more than five million square feet of existing commercial and lodging entitlements.
Here’s the thing, our elected representatives weren’t just swayed by personal stories, they also considered the facts. Facts like the crystal clear language in our Comprehensive Plan which states, “Community character will be preserved by limiting overall development in the community to the amount that has been allowed and planned for since 1994.” Facts like planning staff looking at independent market analysis, speaking with knowledgeable folks in the community, and stating, “Everyone appears to agree that there will not be demand for additional nonresidential potential in the next 20 years above and beyond the amount allowed by the ‘1994’ (current) land development regulations.” And the glaring fact that outside of a vocal handful of property owners who stand to individually benefit from additional commercial and lodging development potential, nearly our entire community stands united in support of prioritizing housing our middle class over more new Marriotts.
When you’re in a hole the best thing to do is stop digging, that’s why limiting new commercial and lodging development potential is the easiest and least costly thing we can do to address our housing challenge.
Let’s be clear, while limiting new commercial and lodging development potential is necessary to address our housing challenge, it’s by no means sufficient. We also need need innovative policy solutions that will result in more housing for hard-working families (which the proposed workforce housing incentive program in District 2 should provide), public investments in housing solutions, effective plans for addressing growth in the public and nonprofit sectors, and the humbleness to admit that because of national and global economic trends, we’ll never “solve” our housing challenge, but we can do our best to deal with it.
All of this is why it was so disappointing to see property owners who stand to individually benefit from additional commercial and lodging development potential continuing their misguided fight against proposed updates to the District 2 zoning regulations that align with our Comprehensive Plan and would help address our housing challenge at last week’s Town Planning and Zoning Commissioners meeting. It was even more disappointing that some of these property owners have resorted to mudslinging and personal attacks, instead of constructively working toward solutions. And it was most disappointing the Planning and Zoning Commission did not recommend the new proposals despite the unanimous vote supporting their direction from both the Town Council and County Commission, overwhelming public support, and the facts and data indicating they should do so.
On April 19th, the Town Council will consider these proposed updates to the District 2 zoning regulations. Given the pushback these proposed updates have already seen, the Town Council needs our support to continue down the right track.
Sign up here to join dozens of your friends and neighbors on April 19 to tell your story and help create a better future for Jackson Hole. If we rise together and make our voices heard, we can give our elected representatives the support they need to do the right thing and take an important step toward addressing our housing challenge.