Miles wants innovation in town development
Builder, planning commissioner sees possibility of hip, vibrant community.
By Noah Brenner, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
September 17, 2008
The 1st in a series of candidate profiles.
Diverse, eclectic, funky, New West, efficient, egalitarian.
Those words could all describe the small cluster of townhomes that Jackson Town Council candidate Greg Miles has built on his property in East Jackson. They could also describe Miles’ vision for the town itself as it grows during the next 20 years. The congruity is no coincidence, as many of his ideas and opinions about growth and its effects on culture in the community were informed from his experience trying to realize a vision on his own property.
Miles has been around urban development almost his entire life. His father was in charge of urban renewal for the city of Newburgh, N.Y., and as a kid he worked summers cleaning up the lawns of dilapidated brownstones along the Hudson River as his father tried to revitalize the city’s abandoned core.
After graduating from high school, Miles felt he had two very different options for the future.
“It was go to a college in New York state or, do I ski the biggest steepest mountain I can get my hands on?” he said. In 1978, he arrived in Jackson Hole with a letter of recommendation to Pepi Stiegler from his ski coach and dreams of being an instructor at what was then Jackson Hole Ski Area.
By 1984, he had held a variety of jobs and also managed to purchase a pair of lots on South Millward Street, which had a trailer and a small cabin. Then the project began. Miles wanted to build an addition on his cabin, but needed a variance to do it.
“The first time I went before the town planning commission – talk about being scared to death,” he said, laughing.
But as he continued to develop what eventually became a nine-unit townhome development at 650 through 668 S. Millward Street, he found that Jackson’s land development regulations rarely allowed what he thought was good development that met the needs of town residents.
“They encouraged a certain pattern and style that to me already seemed to be an outdated model,” he said. “It took away creativity and didn’t allow any better housing.”
The outdated regulations encouraged a single, large house and an accessory unit, when people seem to clamoring for small, privately owned units, he said.
“That is what led me to going and applying for the planning commission,” he said. “I wanted to learn more about planning and more about how the LDRs worked so I could make some changes to the LDRs that would benefit more creative housing opportunities in town.”
He applied, was chosen and has served on the body for six years.
The same drive to fix what he sees ailing town regulation has driven Miles to seek a seat on the council. He has not been able to foster the kind of innovation he wants from his position on the planning commission.
“I am merely [part of] a recommending body, and I am recommending to a group of folks that may or may not understand planning issues as in-depth as I might,” he said. “Prior to the planning commission, I come with the hands-on application of trying to implement the LDRs as a homeowner. So the process of having gone from homeowner to planning commission has really set me up well to step into the town council role in planning issues.”
At the heart of Miles’ candidacy is a vision of Jackson that is macrocosm of his small, diverse development. It took multiple variances, a handful of years and a host of headaches to complete, but Miles beams with pride at what surrounds him as he sits on his porch.
“The experience led me to understand what gets good development and what doesn’t get good development,” he said, a perspective that he thinks is unique among candidates for the council. “So much of the planning now is not forward-thinking enough. It is sitting back on a record – ‘look at what I have done.’ I am saying, ‘Look at what we can do and need to do.’”
What Miles thinks the community can do and needs to do is open up to new ideas that may not fit the mold or the strict letter of the laws governing land development.
“I like diversity, to allow people to try things. ... Sometimes they’re successful and sometimes they’re not successful, but when you deny them the opportunity to try you deny a certain spirit that I think thrives in the West,” he said. “Creative solutions don’t come from a regulatory body, they come out of the spirit of entreprenurism.”
Miles scoffs at the idea that there were ever true single-family neighborhoods in Jackson, pointing to the long-history of homes rented out to six ski bums and the scattered cabins in backyards that have existed for years. Though he sees a role for existing single-family homes and the neighborhoods, he questions whether single-family development is good for the town.
“Why not offer an opportunity for someone to live in a house on a smaller piece of property yet have a sense of privacy within a dense environment?” he said “The regulations right now encourage a big box. Why not chop the box in half?”
Downtown, Miles sees a similar need for diverse spaces, “a mixture of commercial uses and different types of intensities that appeal to tourists and locals.”
“I don’t think locals want to live in a community dominated by art galleries,” he said. “If the local community is willing to give up and say, ‘We don’t need a downtown,’ I think that is a sad thing.”
Creating different types of housing, both downtown and outside it, will result in the type community he wants to live in, Miles said.
“What I want to see is a fun, vibrant, hip community,” he said, “one that is multiracial, multifaceted, multi-income. That is what adds fabric to the community. I don’t want to see the same thing everywhere where I turn.”
Miles realizes his vision may not appeal to everyone in the community, but he would rather have an eye toward the future than focus his gaze on the past.
“I get really frustrated when we have incumbents talking about all that they have done and not saying ‘this is what I want to do,’” he said. “They are not willing to take chances on whether they get elected or not. That is not what I am after. I am after what I think is the right thing to do, at the risk of losing an election, and that is the choice of the people.”