Nearly everyone agrees downtown Jackson is the heart of our community and the economic engine of our region. Nearly everyone shares the vision of a downtown Jackson that’s vibrant and walkable with a balanced mix of housing, lodging, and commercial enterprises.
The newly approved land use rules for downtown Jackson will advance this vision and directly align with our comprehensive plan. Through streamlined, predictable, and simplified regulations, they’ll encourage appropriate commercial redevelopment, and the innovative workforce housing incentive program will encourage and empower the private sector to build employee housing on site.
That’s why it’s so disappointing to see a group that claims to support the comprehensive plan and addressing our housing challenge opposing these approved land use rules that will benefit local small businesses as they work to house and keep their hardworking employees, keep downtown vibrant and the heart of our town, and prioritize housing our community’s middle class.
This new group, which according to the Jackson Hole News & Guide “consists of landowners who stand to benefit from increased commercial potential,” are running a campaign of confusion in their misguided quest for a massive commercial and lodging upzone.
Look, the people running this campaign are our friends and neighbors. They make positive contributions to our community. Many of them are leaders in providing housing for their employees. Here’s the thing, they are advocating for a policy change that would have harmful impacts on our community.
Specifically, this well-funded group is advocating for zoning changes that would encourage 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.
Over the past few years our community has overwhelmingly rejected this direction because it doesn’t align with our vision of a better future or our comprehensive plan. We’ve already thought about it. They can spend tens of thousands of dollars on a high-priced public relations firm trying to put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.
What’s even more disappointing about this slick lobbying group is their bizarre attempt to blame schools, churches, community centers, and other entities that provide public benefits (known as “institutional” uses) for our housing crisis. They have claimed that institutional growth has increased at a rate of 98 percent from 2002 to 2014. As the Jackson Hole News & Guide points out, the actual rate across the county was just 3.9 percent. As in less than 4 percent. We have no idea how they got to 98 from less than 4. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and assume this was an honest mistake.
The Alliance greatly appreciates that this new group wants to have an honest, fair, and respectful discussion on the future of Jackson Hole. That’s exactly how we should do things here in Jackson Hole – through a civil and honest conversation about the long-term consequences of our decisions based on facts and data.
So let’s look at the facts.
There’s crystal clear language in our Comprehensive Plan that 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.”
Along those lines, Town planning staff looked at independent market analysis, spoke with knowledgeable folks in the community, and stated: “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.” That’s right, the facts and data show we don’t need more commercial and lodging development potential for at least 20 years.
Furthermore, in order to stay a strong community where at least 65 percent of people who work here can afford to live here, it’s estimated that our community needs to produce 280 units of housing affordable to people who work here a year for the next 10 years. Of these 280 units, 30 result from catching-up from our current deficit, 50 are the result of the pending retirement of baby-boomers, and 200 are the result of employment growth.
Think about that for a second. The primary driver of our housing crunch is continually increasing commercial and lodging development.
This means the easiest and least costly thing we can do to deal with our housing challenge is to simply follow our comprehensive plan and limit new commercial and lodging development to the over five million square feet of existing development potential (which analysis shows is more than enough for two decades!). When you’re in a hole, the best thing to do is stop digging.
All you have to do is pick up today’s paper and you’ll see nine pages of ads for jobs and only a handful of rentals for places to live – with most of those in Pinedale or Victor or too expensive for middle class folks to afford. Our community has passed the tipping point and is out of balance, way out of balance. We have too much commercial and lodging development and not nearly enough housing affordable to people who work here.
Our Town Council and hundreds of your friends and neighbors have spent countless hours working and advocating for updated zoning regulations for downtown that will help address our community’s housing challenge.
It’s time to move forward with the newly approved land use rules for downtown Jackson as they will benefit local small businesses as they work to house and keep their hardworking employees, keep downtown vibrant and the heart of our town, and prioritize housing our community’s middle class.
Please write the Jackson Town Council today and tell them to move forward with housing our middle class by adopting the approved District 2 land use regulations.