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School housing plan's future up for debate
Candidates weigh in on whether district should be involved development.
By Brielle Schaeffer, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Date: October 10, 2012
The fate of a stalled school district housing plan will be decided after the November general election with new board members taking part.
Considerable planning went into the housing idea in recent years, but the new board will face changed circumstances.
One candidate thinks government should be required to provide reasonably priced housing for its employees. But others say the district should not be involved in land development at all.
Times have changed and so has the need for the project, incumbent Kate Mead said via email.
“I do not believe that teachers are now priced out of the housing market,” Mead said. “I do not believe that the school district should be involved in the development business — there is too much to do to continually work on our mission of academic achievement.”
The Schwabacher project was to provide 11 affordable housing units for school district employees on 2.23 acres near the Old Wilson Schoolhouse Community Center.
Funding for the project fell through in 2010, and the district has not found another financier.
Teton County granted a two-year extension to the land development plan in July to give the district time to decide what it wants to do with the property.
School trustees talked in August about whether they want to continue with the project. They also talked about surveying staff to determine the need for affordable housing and about trying to secure a bridge loan. Nothing formal has been decided.
Unlike Mead, incumbent and board Chairwoman Robbi Farrow said the district should be involved in the housing business if necessary, especially to keep quality employees.
But whether the district should go ahead with the original plan is uncertain, she said.
“It is not possible to predict now the needs of the district, housing or otherwise,” she said.
Candidate Syd Elliott, a former school board member, doubts the current need for teacher housing. She supports creating affordable housing for the future, though.
District officials need “to be proactive in their timing and not wait until they are faced with a similar market that existed years ago,” Elliott said in an email.
Candidate Patricia A. Russell, a member of the Teton County Planning Commission, also wonders if the project is needed.
“There are several other organizations in the county that deal specifically with workforce housing, and I question whether it would be more efficient and appropriate for them to deal with the district’s workforce housing issues,” she said in an email.
Candidate Jay Varley, a real estate developer, thinks government bodies should provide affordable housing if private developers are required to provide employee housing, which they are, he said in an email.
But Varley was reluctant to answer questions that the sitting board has spent a lot of time on.
Candidate Zia Yasrobi, a former board member, said he would need more information.
He supported the Schwabacher project when he was on the board before, he said in an email.
“I don’t know what recent board decisions have been regarding this parcel,” Yasrobi said. “If elected, I will work with my fellow board members to evaluate current needs to help determine the best use of the property.”
Candidate Joe Larrow is undecided. The town and county should be more involved in the planning aspect of it, he said.
“Jackson Hole is one community,” he said. “We make better decisions for the entire community when everyone’s expertise is utilized.”
The Schwabacher family deeded the land to Teton County School District No. 1 in 1969 and required that ownership of the land revert to the family if the property was not being used for school-related purposes. The district paid the Schwabacher family in December 2010 to eliminate its interest.
Under the 2010 plan, the houses would be stand-alone, three-bedroom, 1.5-bath units of roughly 1,600 square feet. Each house included a one-car garage and was designed to be 20 percent more energy efficient than a home built to Teton County code.
The units were to be priced between $321,496 and $357,912.