The Conservation Alliance asked our candidates for mayor, town council and county commission the following questions regarding our wildlife, wild places and community character. All responses are reprinted here as submitted by candidates, without any editing.
Jump directly to an issue: preserving & protecting our ecosystem | protecting wildlife | wildlife collisions and crossings | American public lands | workforce housing | transportation | new nonresidential development | Snow King Master Plan | young people and Latino involvement | Natural Resource Regulations.
The Jackson/Teton County Comprehensive Plan’s vision is to “Preserve and protect the area’s ecosystem in order to ensure a healthy environment, community and economy for current and future generations.” What does “preserve and protect the area’s ecosystem” mean to you, and what are three specific actions you think our community should take in the next four years to work toward this vision?
Lisa daCosta: We are down to 15,000 acres of privately owned land that could be developed out of over 2.6 million acres total in the county. I believe we should support the efforts of landowners and organizations like the JH Land Trust, which acquire and preserve additional acreage. That said, I do not believe that removing development rights for the small amount of remaining private land does much to move the needle on preserving eco-system. Reducing animal deaths through effectively designed and constructed wildlife bridges, and greater visitor education to reduce tourist mistakes like we saw this summer are important actions. Encouraging our local residents in good citizen behaviors like taking mass transit, picking up after and disposing of dog waste and proper animal training to reduce dog/wildlife interactions all make our community a better place.
Trey Davis: The Teton County Wildlife Crossing Master Plan is set for completion within the next year, and I look forward to considering some areas identified for such crossings. Additionally, the Open Space Resources Resolution of Teton County has the specific purpose to evaluate, acquire and steward open space resource property in Teton County and to accept open space easements on behalf of the citizens of Teton County and the Town. There are also areas established in Div. 7.3 of the County LDR’s or current equivalent, and I look forward to hearing the proposals as they are identified and taking action.
Greg Epstein: -I believe that Teton County’s natural and wild resources and the protection thereof should be foremost in our planning efforts.
-I support the expansion of START countywide
-I support “Town as Heart” and complete neighborhoods
-I support environmental oversight for our air, water and land quality within Teton County.
-I support energy efficiency measures and waste reduction strategies throughout our community
-I support leveraging the 4 million people who pass through Jackson Hole on a yearly basis to ensure a consistent revenue stream to support our community necessities. Yes on SPET and Yes on the Community Priorities Fund.
Nikki Gill: To me preserving and protecting our area’s ecosystem in order to ensure a healthy environment, community and economy for current and future generation means finding a balance between open space preservation, private property rights, and the construction of affordable housing. I believe that the affordable housing that allows our working families, middle class, and small businesses to remain in Jackson is just as valuable as our wildlife and open space. Under the new Comprehensive Plan however, most of the county has been zoned one house per 35 acres, which doesn’t do much to truly conserve land , protect wildlife corridors, or provide affordable housing. I will work to create more effective zoning that enables us to build affordable housing , and protect both wildlife and open space.
I will also work to incentivize land conservation easements that are fair to large landowners and cattle ranchers . Many large landowners and cattle ranchers in Teton County would prefer to take less money for their land in exchange for a conservation easement rather than see their land subdivided into 35 acre parcels. Cattle ranchers more than anyone in Jackson don’t want to see their land developed, but they are also entitle to a fair return on land they have done such a great job of protecting for so many generations.
Natalia D. Macker: We are privileged to be residents of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and are also charged with responsibility to protect this place. I want Teton County to be a national example of sustainability and stewardship. Future generations should look back on our actions and be inspired to continue the legacy and also be able to enjoy the same resources we have today. Specific actions for the coming years include:
1. Updating the Natural Resources Overlay within our Land Development Regulations so we prioritize the most critical habitat that is also under the greatest threat and consider this as new development is proposed.
2. Managing our riparian corridors and water quality. This includes continuing improvement in Flat Creek, Fish Creek, and a careful, focused approach to the BLM parcels along the Snake River to ensure appropriate usage once ownership is transferred to the county.
3. Continuing to pursue the planning, design, and building of wildlife crossings.
Sandy Shuptrine: Preserve and protect the ecosystem means to me: preserve water quality, wetlands and riparian areas for both human and wildlife health, including fish and aquatic species. That means making sure the Comp Plan speaks to potential impacts of development on watercourses/ponds and the wildlife dependent on them; promoting healthy vegetation through weed control, native plant fostering and soil enhancement; enhancing air quality especially through reduced transportation fossil fuel emissions (the largest component of air pollution in our valley-except for wildfires!) by promoting non-motorized or alternative fuel mobility; respecting and preserving wildlife critical winter habitat, calving areas and migration/movement corridors, i.e. providing the space for animals to be healthy, avoid stress and safely complete their life cycles; working to remove highway and fence barriers through better practices, re-vegetation of disturbed areas, and providing crossings by incorporating such guidelines and considerations into the Comp Plan; continue educating the public and through regulation in order to minimize wildlife-human conflict. Perhaps most important, it means completing the Natural Resource LDRs to support the Comp Plan vision- it is the remaining section of the Plan to be updated and adopted.
What role do you think the Town and County can and should play in regards to protecting Jackson Hole’s wildlife?
Lisa daCosta: As mentioned above, our goals include our community spending its money on wildlife crossings, slowing the growth of traffic on our roads through the integrated transportation plan and multi-modal alternatives–these areas of investment should be a priority to town and county government.
Trey Davis: I support public and private efforts to permanently preserve strategic habitat lands and continued agricultural conservation of open space. I believe in seeking incentives that the Town and County can offer that respects property rights and permanently protects from future development valuable open space for wildlife.
Greg Epstein: I was born and raised in Jackson, and feel very accountable to preserving and protecting the wild and natural resources that make this place unlike any other on the planet. This will be the guiding principal for any decisions I make as a Teton County Commissioner. In addition to adhering to the Comprehensive Plan, I believe the County should create a county-wide transportation strategy that looks at alternatives like expanding START service, using roundabouts to keep traffic moving, reducing speed limits on highways such as Highway 390 and educating drivers about wildlife accidents before expanding highways to 5 lanes. Once wider roads are constructed, there is no going back. These are decisions that will forever affect the character, ecology and quality of life for all who inhabit the valley (wild and human). Finally, I would like to see density in locations where complete neighborhoods and public transportation exist and ultimately respect the “Town As Heart” initiative. By using the above strategies, I believe we can reduce the pressure and maintain livable habitat for the wildlife of Teton County and the surrounding areas.
Nikki Gill: We’re so fortunate that 97% of our valley is public land and by default protects the vast majority of our wildlife. Of the 3% of private lands roughly 1% is owned by cattle ranchers, who in my mind are some of the greatest stewards of land and wildlife advocates in Teton County. I believe the role of the Town and County should be to do their best to help these ranchers thrive in our community so they can continue to protect wildlife, open space, our western heritage.
Natalia D. Macker: Protecting wildlife is a partnership amongst all of our residents, non-profit organizations, government and the private sector. I want to see the County partnering in wildlife habitat restoration. This could take the form of holding easements or developing wildlife viewing areas. I also hope the County can consider improvements on Flat Creek and continue efforts to address water quality in Fish Creek and other areas. Mindful zoning that honors the Comprehensive Plan and continues to preserve open space, wildlife populations, and concentrate development into complete neighborhoods is also important.
Sandy Shuptrine: Town and County should develop and adopt updated natural resource land development regulations (LDRs) that address the impacts to wildlife of new development or renovations. They should continue to enhance relationships with WYDOT which has the final say regarding crossings and fences along most of the road corridors in our county. They can also revisit including “conservation” in the Community Priorities Fund, i.e. establish plans and a savings account for important wildlife preservation actions, many times with other community partners, when the opportunity comes along. Such actions could include habitat protection and enhancement, crossing funds, collaborating with federal and state agencies on projects such a migration routes like the Path of the Pronghorn. Promotion of bear proof trash/food storage containers and other ways of minimizing human-animal conflicts should be considered, as well.
An average of 114 deer, 35 elk, and 15 moose are struck and killed by motorists on Teton County roads every year. The County is currently overseeing development of a Wildlife Crossings Master Plan. Once that plan is adopted, what are the next steps you’d take to keep people and wildlife safe on our roads?
Lisa daCosta: We know from Sublette County’s experience that our local wildlife is resistant to going under the roads. The town and county should begin now by planning wildlife bridges and the fencing plans to direct the animals to those bridges. Local government can also begin working now in discussions with federal agencies plans for similar bridges over the highways that run through or adjacent to the National Parks and Elk Refuge.
Trey Davis: I think educating locals and visitors on appropriate speeds at night due to wildlife concerns, where wildlife corriders are located and regulations that limit use of cell phones while driving will assist to keep wildlife and people safer on our roads. Examples of such a success are the speed limit signs on Moose-Wilson road during daytime versus nighttime hours.
Greg Epstein: Protecting our wildlife and natural resources is a high priority for future development and transportation planning within the county. As Teton County moves forward with their long-term transportation plan, interactions with wildlife on our roadways need to be part of the conversation and long-term strategies need to be integrated. As I mentioned earlier, wider highways will not be favorable to the inhabitants of our valley. We must reduce unnecessary vehicles on the road, slow traffic down and educate the masses to be on the lookout for animals that could be on the roads. Highway 390 is a good example of these solutions in action!!!
Nikki Gill: Unfortunately there isn’t one solution that will solve the problem of wildlife deaths by vehicles but I do think we’ve already begun to make some positive changes by reducing speed limits at night on many of the roads in Teton County. Once the Wildlife Crossing Master Plan is adopted I would partner with groups such as the Conservation Alliance to fund and construct aesthetically pleasing and effective wildlife crossings.
Natalia D. Macker: Implementing the Wildlife Crossings Master Plan will be a multi-year endeavor and will require the coordination of a variety of public agencies and private landowners. It will also require significant financial investment. While we are working on that, I want to see us moving forward with improving connectivity with our transit network and increasing safety of our roads, especially at intersections. There are also places in the Valley that would benefit from reduced speeds, especially at night. We have seen this be highly effective at virtually no cost in certain areas, and I think we need to work with our partners to consider it in other areas as well. By investing in transportation and implementing the Integrated Transportation Plan, we can reduce the amount of vehicles on the road.
Sandy Shuptrine: Even before the Crossings Plan is adopted, I would advocate for more public education re: wildlife movement, i.e. reasons, time of day, how to avoid conflict, how to facilitate crossing use/funnel fences, digital signs, etc. I would also keep building relationships with WYDOT who has the final say about wildlife crossings on almost all busy highways in Teton County. Once there is an approved Plan, I would work with stakeholders (WYDOT, G & F, GTNP, planners, affected property owners and residents, JHCA and JHWF and more) to strategize priorities and funding methods.
What is your vision for the future of our Teton County federal lands, and what is your perspective on the ongoing region-wide effort to transfer control of our federal public lands to the states?
Lisa daCosta: I think it is unlikely that any of Teton County’s major federal lands will be turned over to state management, particularly when state officials just finalized the sale of an in-holding parcel to Grand Teton National Park. I suspect that YNP, GTNP, BTNF and Wilderness and Wilderness Study Areas will all stay managed federally, along with continued scenic and wild protection of the Snake River. It is too important to our tourism dollars to see a management shift in any of those properties.
Trey Davis: It makes sense to me that states be afforded the opportunity to locally control the federal public lands .
Greg Epstein: Public lands are a natural treasure and a critical economic asset; therefore, I support keeping public land public and accessible to the public and oppose efforts to turn over our public lands to private ownership or state management.
Nikki Gill: I believe that the federal government is best suited to manage the public lands of our state. I would, however, support more cooperation between the federal government and local governments regarding decision making on public land issues. Communities like ours, surrounded by vast amounts of public land, will always be the most affected by land use policy and therefore deserve to have their voices heard.
Natalia D. Macker: Public lands should remain in public hands, and in the case of public lands in Teton County, the best managers of those lands are our federal partners. I support the County’s resolution that was passed in 2015, and commend my fellow commissioners on their leadership in addressing this issue. Public lands are critical to the health of our community and our economy. They also represent our heritage and bring tremendous value to our quality of life. We cannot allow the state to take over such a valuable resource, especially during times of economic uncertainty when management ability would be non-existent.
Sandy Shuptrine: I do not support the transfer of federal lands to the state or to the private sector. We need to advocate for adequate funding for our federal partners’, for maintaining their lands and facilities, by communicating with legislators and Wyoming’s Congressional Delegation. Again, understanding of the potential consequences of land transfer needs to be well communicated to the public. There could be some very minor exceptions to this stance, such as mutually agreed upon boundary adjustments. Federal lands should remain a mutual national treasure for current and future generations. They include watersheds that serve whole eco-regions and are the best hope for healthy wildlife populations.
Our community established a goal through the Comprehensive Plan of housing at least 65% of our workforce locally. The recent Housing Action Plan identified a need of 800 units over 10 years just to “catch up” with the existing workforce housing deficit, and 2000 more to “keep up” with employment growth. How many units of workforce housing do you think our community should build over the next 10 years, and what strategies and tools in the Housing Action Plan would you prioritize to get these units built?
Lisa daCosta: Our best chance for getting housing built is to zone appropriately to allow private developers to construct them. The recently approved project near the Y to convert a brownfield to produce 4 market rate condos and 16 permanently deed restricted rentals indicates that housing can be built by the private sector without a $300,000 to $400,000 per unit public subsidy–but only if we liberalize the zoning to allow it to happen in previously identified neighborhoods throughout the county. For instance, if an elementary school is built south of WYDOT and connected to town sewer, the County Commission should immediately consider a rezone of the land in and around Hog Island. It is already mixed used with government/gravel (Evans)/business residential. Adding a school should be a trigger to reconsider density for that region as a complete neighborhood.
Trey Davis: I believe we need to follow the goal of doubling the amount of production of workforce housing that we have had in the past. The exact number will evolve as the Town and County balance the numbers for residential versus non-residential development. Strategies and tools that I would prioritize are public-private partnerships to assist in getting workforce units built; funding and zoning for housing and zoning for housing for a owner/renter mix.
Greg Epstein: We will never build our way out of this problem. Based on this year’s Hole Report by David Viehman, the total build-out potential to reach 2,000 dwellings in Teton County may not even exist under the current Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Regulations. In my opinion, even reaching 800 units in 10 years would be a stretch. This does not mean we should ignore the issue, however, or rely on market forces to solve the problem. I would propose density in locations where complete neighborhoods and public transportation exist and ultimately respect the “Town As Heart” initiative. Building to 4 stories in appropriate neighborhoods and creating a stable rental market will be absolutes for a responsible housing plan to work. Finally, public and/or private partnerships along with local businesses creating their own solutions will be the pillars of the future of our housing strategy. The Town and County need sustained funding streams to make this work, which is why I support the Community Priorities Fund to direct 1% of sales tax revenue to housing and transit solutions.
Nikki Gill: It seems to me that identifying this magic “workforce housing,” number is getting in the way of us making actual progress on building affordable housing. Instead I think we need to focus on getting shovel ready projects approved and completed in both the Town and County. I know of a handful of landowners who are ready and willing to build affordable housing but they’ve been handcuffed by zoning regulations, the lack of incentives, and the long approval process. I’m not in favor of our local government getting in the development business and I strongly believe the private sector could start building affordable housing immediately if provided with density bonuses, a faster approval process, and a reduction in development fees.
Natalia D. Macker: We need as much housing as we can get without sacrificing our land use goals. While I would like to aim for the goal of 80-100 units per year between the public and private sector, we need to be realistic regarding the limitations of financial and physical resources that the public sector has available. This is why we simultaneously have to invest in our transit network and continue supporting private sector solutions. We have recently brought our Housing Director on board, and I am looking forward to her leadership in helping the town and county work in a coordinated, collaborative manner to take action on this issue. Strategies I am currently prioritizing are:
– Purchasing of land for public-private development partnerships and developing a defined process (similar to a grant process) for the private sector to utilize to ensure appropriate checks are in place for accounting and transparency with public funding.
– Preservation of existing stock.
– Updating affordable housing and employee housing requirements and mitigation.
– Finding a permanent revenue source to fund these efforts.
Sandy Shuptrine: I think building approximately 80 units of affordable and/or workforce housing per year over the next 10 years is a good place to start. This can occur with recently addressed ARU units in town, private and public development. Partnerships between the Housing Authority or Housing Trust and employers may also be a possibility. And I would keep seeking other avenues of relief, especially for summer seasonal workers. JHMR has a seemingly good model. I also believe we need to remain very mindful of the location and type of development that is allowed in the Plan and not exacerbate the employee housing need by granting new commercial options. I do not favor building 2000 more 2-3 bedroom units that would strain all local services and roads. Let’s go for quality/functionality of options rather than quantity of standard residential units. Improving commuter transportation should also be part of the picture. Creative partnerships may be essential. How about involving the real estate sector?
Our community has also established the goal of residents and visitors being able to safely, efficiently, and economically move within our community and throughout the region on foot, bike, and transit. What specific projects, programs, and policies from the Integrated Transportation Plan should we prioritize over the next four years to continue on our journey toward this goal?
Lisa daCosta: We have invested heavily in the construction of pathways and sidewalks throughout the community. However, they are not consistently maintained. Year round plowing and sweeping of the paths and sidewalks, with improved lighting for safety in some areas, will go a long way to year round usage. Though this requires a higher pathways and sidewalk operating budget, this infrastructure will not get used year round if it is not cleared year round of snow and gravel to make it safe. The buses running in the winter need ski racks on the outside, so travelers don’t have to hold them on the bus, and bike racks in the summer. We also need more bus connectivity to parking areas to encourage park and ride.
Trey Davis: To establish a regional transportation strategy; to establish a permanent funding source for an alternate transportation system; to increase service levels for START (frequency, hours of service and connectivity) on local routes, bringing much better service to South Park and the West Bank as well as within Town. The number of daily runs on commuter routes should increase, the town circulator can become more convenient, and the potential for service to Grand Teton Park can be tested.
Greg Epstein: Invest in the START program to make it more efficient within Town, and look to continued expansion of County and commuter routes.
Implement a bike share program in the Town of Jackson.
Work with WYDOT to replace stoplights with roundabouts at certain intersections in Teton County and reduce speeds on other county roads using Highway 390 as an example.
Further incentivize use of the START system – make it easy, convenient and cost effective. Start planning for a more productive use of the Stilson Ranch parking area so people can park and ride in the summer, as they already do in the winter.
Continue complete street infrastructure (sidewalks, bus stops, bike lanes, bike racks) where it is needed in Town.
Nikki Gill: Not only is traffic an important issue when discussing transportation, but safety is as well. Right now we have an arterial road system that lacks redundancy – when we don’t have secondary routes it creates major safety issues.
In order to reduce traffic in and around Jackson it’s crucial that we improve upon our public transportation system by adding new routes that service Hoback, South Park Loop Road, and other neighborhoods in the County, while also increasing the frequency of stops on each route. In addition I think it’s crucial that we add more START bus trips to and from the Star Valley/Alpine and Victor/Driggs areas. There are currently only three trips a day, Monday through Friday, to Star Valley and Teton Valley which only accommodates people working a traditional 9-5 workday. A huge portion of the Jackson workforce doesn’t hold those hours which means riding the START bus isn’t an option for many commuters.
Natalia D. Macker: We need to invest in START to increase ridership, both for our residents, commuters, and visitors. There are many different pieces involved with increasing ridership, from considering HOV lanes to improving schedules to promoting employee options through partnerships with the private sector. Network connectivity, through pathways, bike share, and sidewalks, will also be important in improving ridership. I also am very interested in helping pilot a shuttle system with Grand Teton National Park. Lastly, we need to prioritize updates to our major intersections in partnership with WYDOT.
Sandy Shuptrine: Improved public transit and its funding is very important. Convenience and reliability remain key to utilization, along with possible park ‘n ride locations. Lower impact vehicles and fuels should be promoted. We have a world-class pathway system and should complete missing links as well as ensure ongoing maintenance and enhancements such as benches/resting places for users, signage, possible watering or restroom facilities and weed management. Sidewalks should be completed. Major construction in outlying areas should be reviewed for cost-benefit, as we approach lean times, as the core of the community has been well addressed.
The Town Council and County Commission recently voted unanimously to limit additional new nonresidential development potential to “+/- 0 square feet.” How do you see this decision impacting the next four years of land use planning decisions?
Lisa daCosta: I was a town planning commissioner for five years. I was part of the board which approved the Hotel Jackson, a by-right application. It took 10 years to build, and I believe that it is a wonderful addition to our downtown core. I see the resort master plan for Teton Village, which still has ample construction opportunity, and if the town is unable, due to “down-zones” to cost effectively re-develop and freshen up or replace old developments, as the Village continues to build out, the town is in jeopardy. I think we need to be smarter than absolute zero in our land development regulations. As a town of Jackson voter, I can weigh in on the issue of town LDRs at the polling place. As a county commissioner, town LDRs are outside my purview.
Trey Davis: This decision doesn’t affect land use planning decisions in the sense that it still leaves millions of square footage to be build out and to provide workforce housing from nonresidential development. There do need to be incentives in residential zones that can produce more workforce units, such as more accessory-residential units in residential areas.
Greg Epstein: I understand the need for responsible growth, but we also need to incentivize potential private developers if we want investment in more deed restricted housing. It is unrealistic to think that the public sector can be expected to come up with all the money or solutions. There is a fine balance where density bonuses or floor area ratio increases could be awarded for creating additional affordable housing units. My thoughts revolve around complete neighborhoods and the urban core where potential redevelopment and 4 stories, where applicable, may be the best solution. If the incentives are attractive and profits are reasonable, private dollars will come. Thinking about the infrastructure, floors three and four could be for housing while the first two stories of these potential structures could also create commercial lease opportunities for small businesses, entrepreneurs or other organizations who want to base out of Jackson. Our eventual goal should be the creation of a sustained year round working population where the environment, people and businesses can thrive side by side.
Nikki Gill: I’m not opposed to allowing mixed used developments in the Town and County that incorporate both commercial and employee housing. I don’t believe commercial development is at fault for our current housing crisis, rather I think the greatest culprit is our zoning that limits higher density residential developments. Local businesses should not be punished for a problem that was created by zoning regulations adopted in the ’94 Comp Plan.
Natalia D. Macker: Development in Teton County is a very nuanced balancing act. I believe that vote represents our community’s desire to do our very best with land use planning among a variety of competing interests. I am interested in focusing on the buildout we currently have on the books and working to get that as closely aligned with the goals of our Comprehensive Plan as possible.
Sandy Shuptrine: I support this decision. Original non-residential development, prior to the 1994 Plan, was not based on an analysis of balance, especially in town. Landowners have retained ample rights from those days to serve the community we have said, through planning, that we want to be. The biggest challenge will likely be withstanding the pressure in our constrained market. An exception might be Teton Village, which has been acknowledged, through planning, to be an important ‘node’ for development. In order to adequately serve local convenience, and keep cars off the highway, it may be reasonable to allow a bit more than the very modest 10,000 sq. ft. of local convenience currently allowed in their aging master plan. It may be possible to ‘trade’ some commercial square footage for additional workforce housing, for example.
Snow King Mountain Resort is proposing a significant expansion on US Forest Service, Town and private lands within Teton County. What role do you think the Town and County should play to ensure this proposed expansion aligns with our Comprehensive Plan?
Lisa daCosta: Snow King is a resort district and should have some latitude to expand to increase its survival. It is an anchor in the town of Jackson, and needs to be supported.
Trey Davis: The Snow King Master Plan governs the goals for the Snow King Resort District, and the expansion to meet such goals, even if outside what was initially envisioned, can be successful and make sense if the Town and County keep it consistent with the current Comprehensive Plan and needs for the community today.
Greg Epstein: Primarily we need to enforce the current Comprehensive Plan and ensure that expansion doesn’t compromise the natural values of the BTNF or public enjoyment and access to these lands. I do believe that Snow King Resort is an important part of the Town of Jackson, and believe it can be developed in a way that aligns with the vision of our community.
Nikki Gill: As someone who learned how to ski on Snow King and was practically raised in the Snow King Sports and Events Center during my years of competitive figure skating and playing hockey, I support improvements to Snow King. Since the opening of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, and throughout my whole life, Snow King Mountain Resort has struggled to survive. I’m supportive of any effort to keep our “Town Hill” in operation that aligns with the overall character of our community. Like many in Jackson I don’t want to see Snow King turn into an amusement park, but I also don’t want to see this incredible community resource go to waste. I believe there is way to make improvements and additions to the Snow King Mountain Resort that respects the history of the “Town Hill,” and also blends with the character of Jackson.
Natalia D. Macker: Teton County has a process in place regarding planning and development which includes opportunity for public comment as well as time for staff and elected officials to review the proposal alongside the Comprehensive Plan. This process includes the public while also ensuring each property owner is treated fairly. I believe that property owners need to go through the process.
Sandy Shuptrine: Ask for seats at the table and participate in review with the Comprehensive Plan as a guide.
Large parts of the community, such as Latinos and residents under 40, are significantly underrepresented in civic affairs and decision-making. What is your vision for involving the Latino community and younger people in decision-making? What are concrete steps that Town and County staff can take to make public processes like land-use planning more inclusive?
Lisa daCosta: People are busy working all their jobs. Too busy to attend meetings that run all day. My goal as a county commissioner is to get the meetings back to evenings and have them operate more efficiently, such that the public can attend and offer feedback in the same evening. This recent history of the public having to sit all day, only to have the item they are there to speak on be continued to another day has to end. We need to be respectful of all residents’ time to increase participation, irrespective of demographic or ethnicity.
Trey Davis: Collaboration with Social Service organizations to reach out and assist with communications to Latinos and residents under 40 will assist in spreading the word on the importance of getting involved in local government decisions is key. Translations of forms, applications, and press releases can also assist in current issues and getting the word out and involving such decision makers.
Greg Epstein: I think the nonprofit sector plays an important role in ensuring equal participation in the government decision-making process. Government bodies and representatives may be able to adjust their meeting times, and locales to encourage more participation, but ultimately, giving voice to the disenfranchised and underserved populations is a job best done by the excellent non-profits in Jackson. I do believe that the town council and county commission should set aside time to listen and collaborate with these representative organizations.
Nikki Gill: One of the main reasons I’m running is because of that fact that my generation is significantly underrepresented in local government. At 28 years old I’m beginning to see many of my peers leave because they can’t buy a home or afford to raise a family in Jackson. My generation along with Latinos are some of the most affected by the current housing crisis and the decisions regarding affordable housing, zoning, and much more that are being made currently by our local government will continue to have the greatest impact on us for years to come. I hope that by giving my generation a voice within local government and our community, I can help motivate more of my peers as wells as the Latino community to become more involved.
Combined, the Latino community and residents under 40 comprise a significant portion of the population in Teton County and therefore should be proportionally represented on local boards and in local government. If elected I will work to recruit and appoint more individuals from the Latino community and the younger generation to local boards such as the Planning Commission.
Natalia D. Macker: I am honored to be a member of the County Commission able to represent our younger residents and working families. I consistently make an effort to reach out to as many voices in our community as possible. Relationships, open dialogue, and good listening are the best tools we have for accomplishing our long-term goals. This starts with leadership from our elected officials and partners. I hope to help create a better pipeline of leadership in our community so everyone is truly at the table, and I am working to make my own connections with key leaders in the Latino community so I can be an authentic ally. This means engaging with our youth to understand and participate in civic processes. It means ensuring access by providing tools, such as translation services, and resources to break down barriers. It means creating a safe place in our public meetings where are all welcome to express their ideas and opinions.
Sandy Shuptrine: Invite/encourage all citizens to participate in relevant discussions and ensure that the public knows how to follow public processes and meetings. Also make sure the technology for following meetings is working to facilitate hearing agenda items without taking time off work. I, personally, would like to investigate the possibility of inviting students/young people to be an ‘intern for a day’, for example. I think the processes are already inclusive, but most people cannot take the time from their own lives to be present in a frequent way. The bigger the work load for officials, the shorter the speaking time during public comment opportunities. Email is encouraged. One can also apply for Planning Commission vacancies to get a comprehensive introduction to land use planning.
The Comprehensive Plan calls for the Town and County to “Evaluate and amend wildlife protection standards for development density, intensity, location, clustering, permeability and wildlife-human conflict” (1.1.S.4) and to “Evaluate and update natural resource protection standards for waterbodies, wetlands and riparian areas” (1.2.S.1). Town and County planning staff are preparing a Natural Resource Regulations update for review and adoption. What issues do you see with our current wildlife and resource protection regulations and what are your suggested solutions? What is your plan for engaging all the key stakeholders, including those who represent the wildlife and resources that can’t speak for themselves?
Lisa daCosta: I understand that a new wildlife study needs to be commissioned before the NRO can be updated. In the meantime, selective and judicious decision making can improve wildlife protection. As an example, lowering the speed limit on Cache Creek Drive to 15 MPH did absolutely lower the animal/vehicle accidents in that highly permeable neighborhood. Shadow moose cutouts on Teton Village road offer education and warning to drivers of the presence of those animals. Until the scientific review is complete, we need to rely on simple and smart ways to keep wildlife safer. Also, see my comments about dogs in first question.
Trey Davis: I think consistent enforcement of the Natural Resource Regulations is important for accountability and is critical to our natural resources. I also think the County needs to look into updating natural resource maps to include wetlands and riparian areas and determine impacts and if additional reasonable setbacks are necessary. A stakeholders group can be considered to assist in engaging all the key stakeholders as the regulations are reviewed and ultimately adopted.
Greg Epstein: Ultimately, our community goal should be to realistically reduce impacting habitat and disturbing fragile environments as much as possible. From time to time, there are one-off property rights situations that need to be specifically dealt with, but in general I think the Comprehensive Plan does a good job when it comes to conservation as a priority. Furthermore, these scenarios can be potentially counterproductive for other property owners if county-wide mandates are proposed based on individual property rights issues. My solution is to look at these cases separately and not amend the regulations for an entire land category for one or two outliers. Finally, I view the Comprehensive Plan as a dynamic, community road map, which based on the need for a better quality of life may require improvement at times.
Nikki Gill: I strongly believe that wildlife and resource protections should be a priority and I think this can be done through better zoning, increased density bonuses, and clustering. Our new LDRs reduced the amount of density that can be transferred from one property to another, thus dis-incentivizing clustering and instead incentivizing 35 acre developments. I think many of our current regulations impose unnecessary restrictions on the large landowners and cattle ranchers that have successfully resisted developing their land for generations. It seems their reward for not developing their property, in spite of a large financial gain, is to have their property rights stripped away. I would like for the Town and County to better engage with the large landowners and ranchers who are not only some of the most impacted by these new regulations, but are also some of the greatest protectors and advocates of wildlife in Teton County.
Natalia D. Macker: The County utilizes a Natural Resources Technical Advisory Board to participate in issues, planning, and regulations regarding Natural Resources. This volunteer Board includes individuals from across the spectrum of education and professional areas of expertise. All updates to land development regulations also go through an extensive, multi-step public process. In this case, we have commissioned a study, which can be repeatable, to ensure that our updates are based in science and that they will achieve the desired protection goals. I am specifically interested in ensuring that development is not degrading our waterways. I believe our updates can help create a system of checks and balances that protect resources without being too onerous for property owners, many of whom share our community goals.
Sandy Shuptrine: In the past, I have advocated for regular interagency meetings and would continue to do so, utilizing the facilitation and collaborative planning skills I have developed. Attending agency sponsored workshops, and other educational opportunities, is important. Cooperation between organizations and agencies is a key to success. Wildlife friendly fencing and passage across highways and through developed areas are a prime concern for me. Habitat preservation is critical. These issues are works in progress and need to be brought to conclusion or implemented.