Town hopefuls split on homes, development
Some candidates slam, others defend, planned mixed-use projects.
By Noah Brenner, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Date: October 8, 2008
The four candidates sparring for two seats on the Jackson Town Council differed dramatically in their views on affordable housing, commercial development and the controversial planned mixed-use development tool at a forum Saturday sponsored by members of the League of Women Voters.
Though all the candidates agreed the amount of affordable housing being built was not keeping pace with the amount of commercial development approved in the town, they differed on the causes of the problem and its ultimate solutions.
Challenger Greg Miles said he believed the housing mitigation rate, the percentage of each development that is required to be deed-restricted affordable housing, should be increased to 25 percent to create more housing in redevelopment projects.
“We need to make amendments to the [PMD] tool to make sure getting more affordable housing is produced,” he said
“And we can make sure we have a longer-term housing component,” he said. “But the PMD tool is the only tool getting us housing built. We are not getting much housing built in residential zones.”
Challenger Louise Lasley said the town has approved too many commercial projects and needs to curb those approvals if it ever hopes to address its housing deficit.
“The amount of commercial growth is way out of proportion to what the community needs,” she said.
Lasley said she would like to raise the housing mitigation rate to at least 25 percent but hoped the private sector might address the community’s housing needs on its own.
“I have this fantasy that if commercial growth does not fit the needs of [the community], there will be someone coming in saying there is money to be made and I can come out of this deal with employee housing or rentals of some form and make money,” she said.
Incumbent Abe Tabatabai agreed that the ratio between commercial growth and generation of affordable housing was skewed.
“I don’t believe it’s the correct equation,” he said.
Tabatabai said he could support raising the housing mitigation rate, though he has opposed the measure in the past when it has come before the council.
“I can see voting for 20 to 25 percent if I don’t believe it will halt construction permanently,” he said.
Incumbent Mark Obringer questioned whether estimates of commercial growth, which some have pegged at over 1 million square feet were accurate, but said that nevertheless, housing is not keeping pace.
“I am not sure where the numbers come from, but 70 percent of projects in commercial zoning end up being residential,” Obringer said.
“I don’t believe our housing program today works the way we want it to work. We have to have development to get housing,” he said.
Instead, Obringer proposed moving emphasis away from a housing mitigation rate that is dependent upon new projects to generate housing and toward a fee or tax that could then generate money to build affordable housing independent of commercial or market-rate residential growth.
“I am looking for a housing program coming out of the comp plan that says you you you you and I,” Obringer said, pointing out into the crowd, “will all put a little into the housing program as well as the mitigation rate because we all have impacts on housing in the valley.”
Candidates also split on their views of building on the edge of town on open land in northern South Park near High School Road that has been proposed for high density development in the past.
Lasley said she voted against annexing portions of the Porter estate in the past and still did not view it as ideal but would consider annexation in the future.
“Our first emphasis should be on infill,” she said. “I wouldn’t rule out annexation of the northern part of South Park, but that is not my vision until we fill in the town of Jackson first.”
Tabatabai endorsed annexation unequivocally.
“The most reasonable place for housing is the north end of the Porter estate,” he said.
“I have voted for it previously, and now, eight years later, even those who opposed it the most are saying that land is proper for some housing density,” he said.
Obringer said he opposed the measure in the past and would continue to oppose it if reelected.
“It’s the most consumptive, least sustainable development pattern we can do,” he said. “There are multiple opportunities for housing and growth in the town.”
Miles concurred with Obringer, calling annexation “the last resort.”
“I am not in support of annexing the Porter estate,” he said.
“We have lots of opportunities for infill in town, to do smart growth and require good design to get good housing downtown,” he said.