Print This Page >
Land use a focus in race
Town Council incumbents face newcomers as political debate begins on development ‘vision’ for valley.
By Benjamin Graham, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Date: May 23, 2012
This year’s Town Council ballot will have a diverse slate of candidates, but focus will be on the new Jackson/Teton County Comprehensive Plan.
Three candidates announced their intention to run in the upcoming election: Phillip Cameron, Hailey Morton and Jim Genzer. The newcomers will vie with incumbents Greg Miles and Mark Obringer for the two open council seats. Filing closes June 1.
The main task of those elected will be to implement the new comprehensive plan approved by councilors and county commissioners May 8. The major tenet of the plan is to direct 60 percent of all development in the county to already developed areas, especially in town. Open spaces would be preserved by downzoning in other parts of the county.
The first step, now that the plan is approved, will be for the council to set new land-development regulations. They would adjust the zoning of lots in town to reflect the plan and allow for more development.
Obringer and Miles voted to approve the new plan and have cited their experience with the land-use document as motivation to run again.
“We spent the last four years creating a vision for the valley,” Obringer said. “We’re entering into a phase for the next couple of years where we’ll be setting the template for what our neighborhoods and community will look like.”
Obringer, who is running for a fifth term as councilor, said he wants to be a part of this important process, and now is not the best time for a newcomer to sit on the council.
Miles, who is seeking his second term, said his experience with developing property in Jackson has prepared him to work on the upcoming land regulations.
“I’m probably the only candidate that has actually built housing in town,” Miles said.
In regard to the shift of development towards town, Miles said he is not afraid of the word ‘urban.’
“There are good things about urban,” he said. “It means you can walk or ride your bike to the convenience store. When I want my experience that’s not urban, I’ve got everything right out my back door. I don’t want to see anything built up in those areas.”
Those who oppose the new plan are a vocal minority, Miles said.
“All they can say is no, no, no,” he said.
Genzer, a 40-year valley resident and longtime insurance agent, is the lone voice in the race speaking out against the new plan. He wants to force the plan to a public vote and overturn it.
To preserve the town’s Western heritage, Genzer said, he would rather see development take place in South Park or other areas of the county.
“If we accept the comprehensive plan as it is now, town is going to be dumped on,” he said. He is concerned that narrower streets, less parking, and taller buildings will make life more difficult for Jackson’s citizens.
Genzer, 66, said he would be a mature and positive voice on the council and also one of common sense.
“We need good driving streets, good parking and simple sidewalks,” he said.
Also running in the elections this summer will be two younger political newcomers.
Cameron, 31, and Morton, 26, want to see more development take place in town. Both also expressed the desire to present community members with more professional employment options.
“I want to focus on attracting young people to see Jackson as a viable community to live in and raise their families,” Morton said. “Tourism and retail are at the forefront of our economy, but residents should have other viable options for success.”
Morton, whose parents moved to Jackson when she was 6 months old, envisions small and medium-size companies operating remotely from Jackson.
As for the comprehensive plan, Morton’s main goal is to listen to constituents.
“I haven’t been in a political position in town before, but I do have a well-rounded and representative understanding of Jackson,” she said. “I’m ready to listen and to see what the community wants.”
Cameron stressed that evaluation will be critical to the implementation process of the land-use plan. As part of the plan, elected officials will conduct a progress review after an increase of 5 percent growth.
“We can’t set it and forget it,” he said. “It needs to be an ongoing process.”
Cameron, who is director of the Yellowstone-Teton Clean Energy Coalition, also said transporation will become a concern as town becomes more densely populated.
“People are going to perceive density by how long their commute takes,” he said. “We need to provide transportation planning that accommodates all kinds of users.”
As for the plan’s effects outside of town, he said implementation should balance property rights and the preservation of scenic resources.
Primary elections will take place Aug. 21 and will narrow the candidates to four, from which two will be elected Nov. 6. Terms are for four years.