Environment focus of town candidate debate
Jail panned by those asked to weigh in.
By Noah Brenner, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Date: August 6, 2008
Some are trying to preserve their space in the valley, others are looking to create their space and some are just trying to save some space for the animals that drew many here in the first place.
Though their reasons for running for the Jackson Town Council were different, candidates were almost universal in their support for continuing, and in some cases expanding, town efforts to be more environmentally friendly.
The council, in conjunction with the county, has pledged to reduce waste and energy use by 10 percent by 2010. Candidates looked beyond that goal at a greater diversity of environmental efforts in the future, including mandatory recycling, alternative transportation and taxes on plastic bags.
Incumbent Abe Tabatabai said he would vote in favor of an ordinance to prohibit idling vehicles.
John Bickner said he would support a tax on plastic bags and suggested the proceeds could go to the affordable housing program. But he was cool toward the idea of an outright ban on bags.
Matt Lee said he would support a mandatory curb-side recycling program but was unsure if the town had enough money to back such a measure.
In light of the environmental impacts of the gas fields south of Jackson in Sublette County, Kyle Burson said it was imperative that residents be mindful of their impacts on the local environment.
“Just keep our rivers clean and our lakes clean and try not to burn our garbage and stuff like that,” Burson said, listing steps people could take.
Incumbent Mark Obringer said moving density from the county into the town was the most effective move the council could make toward environmental stewardship.
“I don’t think anything is less sustainable and more wasteful than green-field development,” he said.
Greg Miles, currently a member of the Jackson Planning Commission, said he would like to see more solar panels on public buildings and thought the town could do more to encourage, or require, sustainable design and construction on private projects.
Lee and Tabatabai both endorsed looking at alternative transportation before trying to expand major arterial roads in Jackson.
“In 10 to 15 years, alternative transportation will be just transportation,” Lee said, echoing the words of county commission candidate Claire Fuller.
Keeping the town permeable for wildlife to migrate through is an important consideration when evaluating redevelopment, Tommy Wood said.
“We’ve got to continue to be smart about where we develop so we keep corridors open so wildlife can move through those areas in the least obstructed way possible,” he said.
Louise Lasley said consideration of wildlife should extend to all decisions made by the council.
“Obviously the community feels very strongly about implementing stronger protective measures for wildlife,” she said. “The town is not immune from wildlife issues, and any measure the Town Council takes should take wildlife into consideration.”
Lasley and Miles said they opposed the scale and price of the proposed $53 million justice center that will be one of four specific purpose excise tax proposals on the primary election ballot.
“A justice center might be necessary, but the scale of this reflects the scale of other developments in the county and it should be more appropriate for a small-town character,” she said. “Unfortunately, it is driven by our rate of growth and focus on commercial growth, which brings more people into the valley.”
Miles also said he thought the project was too large and that it was in the wrong location.
“If the facility is going to be shared with the county, I think it should be more on the peripheral of town rather than in downtown Jackson,” he said.
Obringer, who voted to put the measure on the ballot, said he had no opinion on it but thought it was important to give voters the opportunity to weigh in.
Some candidates said the proposed justice center wasn’t the only project, public or private, that doesn’t fit with their vision of Jackson’s small-town character.
“It’s extremely important to maintain our unique character, and building larger and larger buildings, particularly at our gateway areas, is not going to help that,” Lee said.
Lee proposed a form-based code, where the town would regulate the size and characteristics of a building but would not dictate what uses the building would house.
“We need to make it predictable for neighbors and other members of the community,” he said.
Previously, councilors tried to reach similar regulations through the downtown redevelopment district, which was approved by the council but failed in a communitywide referendum.
Miles said he did not support upzoning for more density in the county but smart growth called for more density, and more height, within town limits.
“I support mixed-use development in town — think up, not out,” he said. “We have limited space, and if we don’t use it efficiently, we are going to get the worst of both worlds.”
There are two seats up for election on the Town Council and both incumbents, Obringer and Tabatabai, are running for re-election.
Candidate Tim Sullivan did not attend the forum.
The race is nonpartisan, so voters will trim the nine candidates to four during the general election. Of those four, the top two vote-getters in the November general election will win the two open seats.