THE BUZZ 2: Citizens Decide on District 2

By on August 31, 2016

A referendum aimed at thwarting development in the downtown’s core will grant voters the opportunity to weigh in.


JACKSON HOLE, WY – When the nonprofit Save Historic Jackson Hole succeeded in petitioning Jackson Town Council for a referendum on downtown core zoning, it was direct democracy in action.

But town councilman Don Frank maintains the public has been included in the zoning regulations all along. “District 2 LDRs balance varied interests incentivizing potential workforce housing,” Frank said. “They are the reasoned product of years of sincerely considered public input.”

As the valley’s housing emergency sees no semblance of relief, residents want to weigh in on development and zoning. More than 700 voters signed the petition saying they want to vote “yes” or “no” on a suite of ordinances pertaining to development in the town of Jackson. On September 20 at 200 South Willow Street, they will get their chance.

“A referendum is part of the democratic process, so I respect that,” said councilman Jim Stanford. “Was it worth going to bat over? I’m not sure.”

Stanford noted the petition’s obscurity—that it does not specify what aspects of the ordinance voters opposed or questioned. “Maybe they are objecting to all of it. We didn’t hear much public comment,” he said, referring to the August 24 special town council meeting held specifically to address the referendum.   

The petition uses broad language, calling for a referendum “so Town voters can cast ballots for or against Ordinances 1121 through 1129 inclusive.”

Save Historic Jackson Hole board member Armond Acri said the main sticking point is the short-term rental tool in a section of the downtown core. The tool would allow developers extra square footage of commercial space in exchange for building workforce housing. “There was a lot of public sentiment against the short-term rentals,” Acri said. “The town council doesn’t think it was a big change, but for a lot of people it was a big change at the last minute.”

Stanford was the lone councilor who originally opposed allowing short-term rentals. However, after three readings, the council unanimously decided to cap the square footage allowance as a means of testing how much workforce housing actually gets built. This decision came as a surprise to some following the first reading, which coincided with the Shelter JH rally. During that meeting almost 100 people appeared in town chambers pleading for a halt on commercial development and the implementation of emergency housing.

“While [the final decision] was not my ideal outcome, it removed the possibility of our worst fears being realized. I could live with it,” Stanford said. The councilman’s “worst fears” were the potential for 2.4 million square feet of short-term rental space in a small part of the downtown core. The council, however, agreed to cap the allowable space at 100,000 square feet.

Jackson resident Zac Rosser did not indicate specific concern over short-term rentals. He says he signed the petition because he wants development issues put to a popular vote. “People have to weigh in,” he said. “During a public meeting there are opinions raised, but no actual vote for people who live here.”

Colleen Valenstein also signed the petition. She too wants citizens to help make development decisions rather than only elected officials. “If it’s something that people can vote for then it doesn’t come down to three or four people’s decision; it’s more encompassing,” she said.

Residents appear to have signed the petition for various reasons and with varying degrees of understanding of the land development regulations. However, Acri thinks the opposition signaled a potential majority opinion. “Why didn’t the town council repeal the ordinance when they knew there was opposition?” Acri said, referring to the special meeting.

However, Frank worries a fully informed majority will be difficult to reach. “In order to know what the majority thinks factually, an empirical 51 percent of all voters must understand these LDRs completely and then vote on this specific question,” he said.

Sample ballots were completed by the county clerk’s office Monday afternoon. Wording is brief and includes a summary of the ordinances.  According to the sample ballot, the ordinances set forth “Allowed uses, building design and sidewalk standards, and a workforce housing incentive program in four new mixed use zoning districts,”

The term “short-term rental” does not appear. PJH

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About Meg Daly

Meg Daly is a freelance writer and arts instigator. She grew up in Jackson in the 1970s and 80s, when there were fewer fences, but less culture. Follow Meg on Twitter @MegDaly1

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