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?
Jessica Sell Chambers: Preserving and protecting the area’s ecosystem means aiming for symbiosis between people and other life in the valley. It means taking action to ensure our needs or desires do not overwhelm those of the natural world around us. It means cultivating and maintaining the delicate balance between our physical presence in the valley and the unnecessary harm to the valley, its organic systems, and wild inhabitants.
Three specific actions our community should take in the next four years are:
1. Focus on creating a sustainable community, where the individuals who support our community are valued and considered with regard to housing and transportation actions. When people are valued they invest in the community and care about its future, which in our case is inextricably linked to our environment and wildlife.
2. Fully commit to the changes and priorities outlined in the Comp Plan and the Integrated Transportation Plan. For instance, we can’t say we want to reduce cars and then actively make decisions that continue to encourage them, i.e. upping the required parking spaces. People will meet the expectations we have of them and this town.
3. Reach out to other public entities, such as the Teton County School District, to ensure future development needs are tackled collaboratively and reflect the interests of the entire community and our expressed conservation and development objectives.
Judd Grossman: We need to preserve our open spaces, wildlife habitat and stable neighborhoods. Jackson is maxed out with people and cars. Overpopulation is damaging the quality of life for residents and the quality of the tourist experience. Overpopulation is putting enormous pressure on our ecosystem both from development and overuse. We need to refrain from any expansion of development rights except for incentives for open space and wildlife habitat in the county, and employment based deed restricted housing in the walkable commercial urban core of Town and Teton Village.
Hailey Morton Levinson: During my first term on town council, preserve and protect is something I have thought about in most decisions I make. Our ecosystem and how to preserve and protect it, is something I have grown up with being raised in Jackson. I practice preservation in my personal and professional life as well as a town councilor. Three specific actions for the town include:
1.Continuing collaborative work with Teton County, the National Parks and Forests, and other agencies to always use best practices and policies when thinking of our ecosystem.
2.Finishing the updates to our land development regulations.
3.Continuing the work we do for energy use mitigation and reduction.
Anne Schuler: Our community’s quality of life depends on preserving and protecting our ecosystem. The quality of the ecosystem is why many of us live here and attracts visitors, whom many of us depend on for our livelihood. Over the next four years I would like to see improvements to Flat Creek and to continue to improve storm water drainage into Flat and Cache Creek, the adoption and implementation of the Wildlife Crossings Master plan and the town/county partner in wildlife habitat restoration efforts which may include designing wildlife viewing areas.
Jim Stanford: We have a responsibility to be good stewards of this valley. As such, we should reduce traffic on our roads, improve connectivity of wildlife habitat and reduce pollution into our waterways.
What role do you think the Town and County can and should play in regards to protecting Jackson Hole’s wildlife?
Jessica Sell Chambers: An obvious role the Town and County can play in regards to protecting Jackson Hole’s wildlife is minimizing human-wildlife conflict by constructing safe wildlife crossings, by keeping wildlife habitat connected by smart zoning and development and lands held in trust, and as already mentioned, by addressing the housing and transportation issues we face.
Judd Grossman: Limit development potential. Direct development out of open space and wildlife habitat. Focus new development into the walkable commercial urban core of Town and Teton Village.
Hailey Morton Levinson: Town and County have a role of protecting wildlife through our built environment and through land use policies. For example, integrating wildlife friendly zoning laws such as permeable fences, landscape spacing, concentrating density, etc., are ways we can protect wildlife. It is important to me to look at our transportation plan and how things such as wildlife crossings or improved alternative transportation will save wildlife and improve our ecosystem stewardship.
Anne Schuler: I think the comp plan does a good job prioritizing and protecting our wild and natural resources and lays out areas where development and density is appropriate. I see the town supporting conservation through zoning, transportation and education. As the LDR’s are updated maintaining the town as the heart and directing growth to districts 2-4 will cut down on sprawl. Encouraging walk-able mixed use neighborhoods and promoting the use public and alternative forms of transportation will help with traffic. Finally the town should educate the public about best practices to reduce waste and to avoid conflicts with wildlife.
Jim Stanford: Working with state and federal partners on management of game and habitat. Reducing development potential in sensitive wildlife areas.
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?
Jessica Sell Chambers: The next steps I’d take to keeping people and wildlife safe on our roads following the adoption of a Wildlife Crossings Master Plan would be to get people off of the roads and continue the work of intelligent zoning and land development regulations that help reduce human-wildlife conflict, improve habitat connectivity, and improve inhabitant/worker investment in the community.
Judd Grossman: SPET is the best way for the community to help pay for wildlife crossings. We need to defeat the General Excise Tax in November, so that we can reinstate SPET. SPET encourages government transparency and accountability.
Hailey Morton Levinson: As a town councilor, I have worked closely with our partners at the county. We will look at this plan together and see where resources are best allocated to achieve the highest benefit to wildlife and the community. I know this plan will be robust and offer options for us to move forward in a meaningful way for our transportation and wildlife goals.
Anne Schuler: When the recommendations of the Wildlife Master plan are adopted we should take the recommendations seriously and use them as the road map to keep wildlife and people safe on our roads. Wildlife collisions and movement in is a major concern in our increasingly crowded community and we need to have a collaborative approach that involves local government agencies and wildlife experts.
Jim Stanford: Take input from the public and work with WyDOT on building a crossing along West Broadway.
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?
Jessica Sell Chambers: KEEP PUBLIC LANDS IN PUBLIC HANDS. We do not have the funds at a state level to care for the lands. This would result in the privatization of these lands, which is not in any way, shape, or form, beneficial for our community, our wildlife, the ecosystem, the environment, sustainability, our economy, etc. Privatization would mean definitive mineral extraction. Wyoming is grasping at straws with regard to mineral extraction; we must move toward sustainable energy sources and economy. We need to buckle down and think about what’s best for our long-term future and not just the next five or ten years of a boom cycle. It’s so odd to me that a state that was settled by frontiersmen and pioneers, that prides itself in being self-sufficient, bootstrapping, and independent could fail to recognize the shortcomings of finite endeavors. We must not sell ourselves out; we must look at the long term interests of our families, our communities, and our lands.
Judd Grossman: The public lands in Teton County should continue to be managed for open space, wildlife habitat, and low impact recreation. Public lands should not be sold off for any purpose. Industrial and business uses of our public lands should be closely restricted – that includes the ski resorts.
Hailey Morton Levinson: Our federal lands should remain in federal control. As citizens of this valley we know these lands belong to the people and to protecting the animals and opens spaces. I represent Jackson on a state level as a board member of the Wyoming Association of Municipalities. As such, I hear different opinions about this issue. I have shared the views of our area and will continue to work with my fellow local electeds across the state to emphasize the importance of our federal lands staying in federal control.
Anne Schuler: While I believe that the town and county should continue to manage the lands that they control, I don’t think that federal lands should not be transferred to state control. With states like Wyoming already experiencing budget pressure I fear what could happen if the lands are in state control.
Jim Stanford: Our public lands managed by the federal government should stay in federal control. I cosponsored a resolution in support of federal management and opposing transfer to states, and nine out of 10 local elected officials backed the measure.
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?
Jessica Sell Chambers: The simple answer is the community should build enough units of workforce housing over the next ten years. But, we need to quantify what 65% of the workforce looks like. If we’re currently housing less than 60% of the workforce as per the Town’s 2016 Indicator Report, how many people need homes to get to 65% and then let’s divide that over 10 years. Also, let’s focus on this idea of ‘keeping up’ with employment growth. There is only so much growth possible – and we need to stay focused on what’s creating the growth – is there a way to curb it? The 2016 Report indicates the problem is the job growth rate (5%) is almost double that of the development rate (2.6-2.8%). We’ll never catch up if we don’t look at the underlying causes for this disparity. Understanding the problem with concrete facts and figures is the number one step in strategizing to get housing built. Density and intensity in the Town of Jackson has already been agreed upon as a way forward. The LDRs need to be updated so as to allow for it and make it motivationally lucrative for developers to build housing and rentals, and we need to target all mid-low income brackets. We have surpassed the point of being overly picky about our backyards. Either we take action to fix the problem or we should stop complaining about it. Balance and sustainability is usually the wisest answer to most problems and that should guide our decision making; let’s stay focused on the long-term value of having a community in Jackson.
Judd Grossman: I’m proposing a Workforce Housing Overlay in the core urban commercial areas of Town and Teton Village. These are areas that provide easy walkable access to shopping, entertainment, work and transit. Within the overlay we need to allow significant density bonuses for employment based deed restricted housing. These units should be limited in size to increase affordability, and there should be no parking requirement. Parking requirements are the biggest obstacle to affordability, and they add to our traffic problem. Owners of these units should be required to pay fees that cover vigorous enforcement of the deed restrictions and neighborhood parking restrictions, and to subsidize robust START service to their vicinity.
I don’t support public subsidies for private sector workforce housing, because that is corporate welfare. Businesses need to step up to the plate and pay their employees properly, or provide their own housing subsidies, or rework their business plan. Government’s responsibility is to get zoning in balance.
By using zoning incentives rather than direct taxpayer subsidies we can give employers and employees the opportunity to take care of their own housing needs without massive public subsidies. The Workforce Housing Overlay will focus density into the walkable commercial urban core preserving open space, wildlife habitat, and stable neighborhoods – without exacerbating our traffic problems.
Hailey Morton Levinson: I am not looking at a specific number of units but rather working together with Town, County, and the private sector to make as much progress as we can. Some of that will come from land development regulations and adding density to town so as to preserve our open spaces and allow the density needed. Public projects will also be key to providing more affordable housing stock. As the workforce retires and moves away, preserving those homes for future workforce is important too. We will be updating our housing mitigation requirements in the next 12 months as well. During my time on council, I have supported different housing projects, worked to incentivize the private market to build affordable units, and have voted to invest millions into workforce housing. It will take many different options to work towards our goals and working together as a community will be vital.
Anne Schuler: I don’t know the magic number for the amount of work force housing units built over the next 10 years, but 2800 units is a lot, particularly when you think about it as a percentage of our current population. I think the best way to get housing built is to finish the rezoning and find ways to incentivize the private sector to build work force housing and encourage public private collaboration. Moving density into town is a start to finding a solution and finding ways to preserve our existing work force housing is critical.
I don’t think we can build our way out of the housing problem but we can certainly do a better job than we are currently doing. We need a stable, local, year round workforce to maintain our community character.
Jim Stanford: 2,800 is not a realistic number. We can make incremental progress, building 20 to 30 publicly funded, deed-restricted houses every few years, if voters approve the general sales tax in November. The private sector has the ability to build more units, and employers will have to step up to house their employees.
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?
Jessica Sell Chambers: Having our residents and visitors be able to safely, efficiently, and economically move within our community and region by many modes of transportation is a great goal. Again, understanding who is on our roads and focusing on reducing those travelers is key. Also, START updates must be done in tandem with other area updates, such as development and incentives and regulations. Research shows that by getting people off roads and onto buses or whatever else, people see less traffic and start driving again — back to square one.
Prioritizing ease, sensibility, and predictability of START bus routes is a key. The first time I tried to take the bus after moving here I couldn’t find the town shuttle stop to get me back to where I started – it was different from the one where I arrived. Coming from someone who lived in a city with an “uptown-downtown-crosstown” public transportation system – I was confused to the point of walking. Simplifying the routes to East-West Town and Crosstown loops/lines could be hugely beneficial. Using the buses for random or non-uniform travel is often out of the question because the system as is, is not intuitive. We need a Broadway Line with an express option and a Snow King Avenue Bus with common hubs at the end of the line, ideally at parking lots. This would need to be coupled with pedestrian friendly streets to be effective, which the Town is already doing. We shouldn’t put the horse before the cart – we need ridership first.
Judd Grossman: The Integrated Transportation Plan is unrealistic. It’s goal of quadrupling START ridership in 20 years is mystifying even to people within the transit community. START ridership growth has essentially been flat for 10 years. START currently handles 1% of our traffic, even if the quadrupling of ridership somehow happens START will at that point still only handle 3% of our projected future traffic. At a price tag of over one hundred million dollars that is a terrible return on investment. We need to expand START in response to ridership demand rather than the “build it and they will come” approach that encourages excess capacity and empty buses.
While START and pathways are very useful amenities it’s disingenuous to tell the public that if we raise taxes and pour enough money into them they will solve our traffic problems. The real solutions to our traffic problems are to limit the valley’s build out potential, focus new development into the walkable urban core of Town and Teton Village, and to optimize, expand and connect our roadway system.
We need to defeat the General Excise Tax increase in November and reinstate SPET. SPET allows the public to properly vet big ticket proposals, and is the right way to fund new buses for START, and other transportation initiatives.
Hailey Morton Levinson: We should continue to prioritize efforts with START and bicycle/pedestrian improvements. My family is a one car household and as such, we walk, bike, and ride the bus often. Making sure we have safe routes for all ages and abilities is key to making alternative transportation friendly and convenient enough to use over the car. As a town councilor, I have supported efforts towards improving our alternative transportation systems and will continue to do so.
Anne Schuler: Expansion of START commuter service to Star Valley and Alpine/Driggs should be a priority as well as building a maintenance facility. I would then like to see START expanded service south of town to Melody Ranch and Rafter J as well as north of town to Grand Teton National Park.
In the town, continuing with the complete streets initiative to accommodate, pedestrian, bike and vehicles. Making neighborhoods more connected will improve walkability. I would also seriously consider a ride share app. As we develop more workforce housing parking spaces will become even more valuable, ride sharing may be a great alternative.
Jim Stanford: Continue building the START bus system with more commuter routes and improved service to Teton Village in summer. Integrate bicycle facilities with bus system. Continue building missing sidewalk segments in town.
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?
Jessica Sell Chambers: Ideally, it will motivate the Council to move decisively on updating LDRs in surrounding zones in order to speed up the process of housing and residential unit development in established neighborhoods. I would also like to see the Council implement some protections for renters, who currently do not have many (if any) in place. It serves everyone in the community to have housing security.
It is my great hope we can incentivize the development of residential units, especially for the smaller scale, local developers, that greatly benefit local businesses across the board.
Finally, institutions are adding to community ‘growth’, outpacing development, but our community benefits from the vast array of services these institutions and non-profits provide, the town should work toward solutions to keep this workforce living locally. The services these groups provide are services not required from the Town but improve the quality of all of our lives.
As for offsetting general commercial growth and housing demands, I’m not convinced it is the job of businesses to provide employee housing. This ties people to their jobs through their housing or vice versa, which does not tie them to the community. Additionally, the benefit is largely to the business, and in some cases is another avenue for profit and indentured labor. I’d prefer the Council address a livable wage than require businesses to provide housing.
Judd Grossman: Jackson Hole is maxed out with people and cars. There should be no additional development rights granted except for incentives for open space and wildlife habitat in the county, and employment based deed restricted housing in the walkable commercial urban core of Town and Teton Village.
Hailey Morton Levinson: We may see some development or redevelopment of commercial lots in downtown Jackson. The “+/-0” refers to not allowing more than what is already entitled, so we will still see some commercial development. This decision shows a focus on looking for a better balance between residential and commercial. I will look to how we can gain more workforce housing stock in the next four years with the implementation of new land development regulations in the residential areas of town.
Anne Schuler: Because land is so valuable as we develop we need to be more efficient use of space. We also need to coordinate and monitor the amount of commercial space being developed and maintain the town as the heart to reduce sprawl.
Jim Stanford: I think it was a wise decision. More commercial development would make our traffic and housing problems worse.
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?
Jessica Sell Chambers: The Town and County must ensure the Comprehensive Plan is adhered to if and where possible. If we continue to make exceptions to the vision of the plan and our specified long-term objectives, what is the point of the Plan? I like the golden goose analogy: We have a goose that lays golden eggs; if we kill the goose that provides the egg, we will have no more eggs in the future.
Judd Grossman: The Town and County should advocate that the Forest Service restrict SKMR to the smallest expansion footprint necessary for viability, and make sure that a high priority is given to the preservation of the natural beauty of Snow King. The current expansion proposal is too big.
Hailey Morton Levinson: The Town Council recently had this as a topic of discussion at our public meeting. Snow King is a community asset and deserves community wide conversations. There is publicly owned town land at the base that we have direct influence over. Some expansion involves the US Forest Service lands. I want to see a collaborative process involving all parties so that the community feels heard and so that Snow King can continue to be a viable and sustainable asset to the community. That process may be all of us sitting in a room together or it may be keeping informed of individual processes; either way, the public should be involved and be heard.
Anne Schuler: The Snow King Expansion particularly to the east and west concerns me. We must ensure that any expansion preserves wild life habitat and the scenic value of the area.
Jim Stanford: We should reject expansion of Snow King Ski Area to the east and west to protect wildlife habitat. The town and county should re-examine the outdated master plan for the base area to make sure it is aligned with community needs and matches the vision for recreation on the mountain. I think Snow King should be a community ski area surrounded by a neighborhood, not a commercial amusement park.
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?
Jessica Sell Chambers: Jackson tops the nationwide list for wealth and income inequality. Simple put, people under 40 and Latinos are largely underrepresented because they’re working and trying to find housing. Therefore, if we want these people to be better represented we need to take actions to make their lives more conducive to participation.
Some concrete steps Town and County staff can take to make public processes more accessible and to increase participation are to have Spanish materials and translators.
They can commit to solving the housing crisis; repeating not everyone can live here is failing before we try.
The Town of Jackson and Teton County making a proclamation that they value all of its workers and families, including our Latino families would be a great start, even if symbolic. We tend to qualify who is worthy and who is not of our actions and attention. In my book, even if you’re a ski bum, you’re working in our service industry. Even if you’re a housekeeper or a dishwasher, you are the lifeblood of an industry that sustains our local economy. Our town shuts down without the contribution of all of our workers and we need to value them.
Judd Grossman: Making sure that government communications are translated into Spanish is a good way to involve the Latino community. The Town and County need to make the land-use planning process more accessible for all residents. We need to start by tightening up the planning timelines. The interminable process of the current Comprehensive Plan and LDR revisions is burning everyone out.
Hailey Morton Levinson: As a member of the under 40 crowd, I provide direct representation for that age group. I also encourage people to get involved at different levels of government including our community boards. Not everyone has the time or wants to serve in this capacity though so any chance to engage and communicate with these groups is key and something I do often as your town councilor. I supported live streaming the town council meetings which has allowed more people to see council meetings during or after through the archived links. Working to involve the public through public workshops, online tools, and other interactive meetings can help to engage the public.
Anne Schuler: We are beginning to see more community involvement across the board as issues like housing and transportation are having such a negative impact on our community. Having town council meetings video taped and available on-line makes it easy to stay current on what is going on with the town council and should be expanded to the County Commissioner and planning meetings. Voter registration initiatives targeting recent high school graduates may be a way to capture more of the Latino community. Asking younger people to serve on committees and boards is a good way to start getting people more involved in decision making and comfortable using their voices.
Jim Stanford: I have reached out to the Latino Resource Center on issues that specifically affect the Latino community, such as demolition of a trailer park on Millward Street. Councilwoman Levinson and I also pushed for video streaming and archiving of town meetings, which has made it easier for citizens — particularly younger residents — to stay involved with their government. Recent land-use planning efforts were impressively well attended by people under 40.
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?
Jessica Sell Chambers: Current wildlife and resource protection regulations lack sufficient protections for our natural resources, which results in unnecessary human-wildlife conflict, the degradation of habitat, migration corridors and watersheds, and the pollution of our waterbodies, waterways, and wetlands. To curb or improve these issues, we need to greatly minimize development away from rural areas and open spaces and into already developed areas. We need to minimize or neutralize our impact on our surroundings. We need to establish expectations and norms that respect and protect our ecosystem and the vocal inhabitants of our valley will accept them as natural to our well-being as a community and to our tourism based economy.
Workshops that involve the community at-large are very productive and helpful for bringing varied stakeholders to the table. Soliciting help from or partnering with any number of the various organizations who advocate for conservation and the ‘voiceless’ resources is also highly effective. In the end though, strong and thoughtful leadership from our electeds is required. Our long-term interests as a community are not always apparent to us as individuals, and therefore it is the job of leadership to make informed decisions, using the tools and information detailed above, for the long-term benefit and sustainability of our community. Protecting our environment is not a question in my mind – not in the least here in Jackson.
Judd Grossman: My goal is to help us keep the county as rural and as wild as possible. Open space, ranching, and wildlife habitat are the most important values on county lands. I would prefer to see the absolute minimum of new development rights granted in the county – focusing solely on density bonuses for protecting open space and wildlife habitat. I do not want to see any more suburban sprawl and the traffic it engenders in the county. We also need to continue to pursue options for the transfer of development rights out of open space and wildlife habitat and into appropriate nodes.
Hailey Morton Levinson: Open, inclusive communication and discussion is of utmost importance to me and has been during my time on council and will continue to be. Including key stakeholders in the conversation is obviously key and achieved through meetings, workshops, individual discussion, etc. I want to hear from the community experts to make the most informed decisions.
Anne Schuler: I think we need to define our most critical habitat areas and work on habitat restoration efforts as needed. Storm drainage flowing into Cache and Flat Creek and this needs to be addressed. Wildlife permeability around town is also a concern. There are numerous agencies and nonprofit organizations with different areas of expertize that should be included in any planning.
Jim Stanford: The town must continue working to improve storm water drainage into Cache Creek and Flat Creek. A “blueway” along Flat Creek that improves the health of the creek and allows for better access is a good idea. The town should consider requiring bear-proof garbage containers in the peripheral neighborhoods where conflicts can occur. I am always happy to meet with wildlife advocates and do my best in all decisions to keep alive the spirit of the Muries and all those who have bestowed to us a legacy of conservation.