THE BUZZ 2: District Two Redo

By on September 28, 2016

After citizens shot down development ordinances in the downtown core, town council has a new to-do list.

‘Jackson’s Hole’—McCabe Corner project at 185 N. Glenwood (owned by Bear Development) will likely remain in limbo until LDRs for District 2 are settled and, perhaps, long after that.  (Photo: Jake Nichols)

‘Jackson’s Hole’—McCabe Corner project at 185 N. Glenwood (owned by Bear Development) will likely remain in limbo until LDRs for District 2 are settled and, perhaps, long after that.  (Photo: Jake Nichols)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Last week during a special referendum election, Jackson residents voted to repeal development ordinances in the downtown core in an 827 to 647 vote. Now the question is: How will Jackson town council proceed?

Mayor Sara Flitner says she will be advocating for the council to repeal the addition of short-term rental potential that likely caused the uproar over District 2 ordinances. In exchange for allowing developers to build short-term vacation rentals, the town had hoped to incentivize the private sector to build workforce housing in addition to their projects.

“Our job now is to improve affordable housing and share the message that we need public and private support to achieve this goal,” she said.

Flitner added that the council is not in favor of short-terms rentals “all over the place.”

In a September 21 newspaper article, the mayor said she was “disappointed” in the results of the vote.

When speaking with The Planet, Flitner intimated that public critique of private developers’ involvement in solving Jackson’s housing woes is misguided. “The finger pointing, the character assassinations, the distortions of truth are a horrific injustice,” she said.

Councilman Don Frank offered a more measured response. “I was surprised that between original petition solicitation and [the September 20 election] a very narrow policy agenda surfaced,” he said.

Frank has been a supporter of the controversial short-term rentals since early in the process of crafting downtown land use rules. He says he wants to “real world” test incentive tools like short-term rentals. “A growth monitoring tool exists in the Comp Plan and it can serve us well by replacing hypothetical narratives with measurable data,” Frank said.

But for voters like Margaret Gordon, a bookkeeper and mother of two who has lived in the valley 17 years, the specific incentive of short-term rentals was egregious, whether a monitoring tool or not.

“I voted no,” Gordon said. “While I think the majority of the ordinances were fine, I didn’t like that the ‘Vote yes’ contingent was selling the promise of employee housing in exchange for what would be essentially more hotel rooms.”

Gordon said she was put off by the strange bedfellows who supported the ordinances as-is. Prior to the September 20 vote, the Committee to Move District 2 Forward placed ads with local news outlets urging voters to vote “yes” on the referendum in order to create workforce housing. The committee was comprised of recent opponents on the D2 short-term rental incentive. Think About It Jackson Hole and the Jackson Hole Chamber had supported the incentive in past town council meetings, whereas Shelter JH and One22 had opposed it. Yet all of those organizations were part of the committee.

“The flip-flopping of certain organizations, and the fact that other local nonprofits jumped on the “yes” side, complete with nine people standing at the corner of Pearl and Broadway that morning holding signs, made me feel like a lot of money was being thrown at this to persuade us to pass it,” Gordon said. “That always makes me suspicious.”

The D2 referendum brought to light questions of trust in a representative democracy. The perennial cry from elected officials to trust them came under scrutiny during the referendum’s direct democracy appeal, where voters had the final say.

Town council candidate Judd Grossman believes citizens have a reason to be suspicious. He says the council has not been transparent enough about its decision-making process. “The public is tired of being blindsided by consequences to council actions that aren’t fully disclosed or vetted ahead of time, so they instinctively put the brakes on at the ballot box,” Grossman said.

But the referendum did not necessarily educate voters about the complex LDRs in question, according to Jackson resident Lauren Olson. She says she didn’t have enough information to make an informed vote. Instead, the rushed nature of the referendum was dismaying for her.

“Forcing people to vote on this issue in the middle of September was part of what put me off about it,” Olson said. “It felt like I was being rushed, manipulated, and denied adequate information to make a vote I could feel confident about.”

While some town council members, like Hailey Morton Levinson, expressed patience with the continued process to educate voters and fine-tune the LDRs, stakeholders like mayoral candidate Pete Muldoon want the council to get the show on the road.

“The town council should go back to the original set of ordinances [which did not include the potential for short-term rentals] that they already read and pass them immediately,” Muldoon said. “They were a great compromise that the community arrived at with a lot of deliberation.” PJH

The next Jackson town council meeting is 6 p.m. Monday, October 3 in town hall. The town will release the agenda for this meeting on its website 4 p.m. Thursday, September 29.

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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