Why I Voted Against the Hog Island Housing Development
You've likely heard that I joined a majority of Town Council members and County Commissioners in voting against amending the 2012 Comprehensive Plan to accommodate the proposed Hog Island housing development.
Truly affordable housing remains a top priority of mine, so I want to explain why I voted against a measure that appears on the surface to provide a solution.
Workforce Housing Is Not Inherently Affordable
Providing housing that local workers and families can actually afford in the Jackson market requires thoughtful land-use planning and carefully drafted deed restrictions that ensure the housing is affordable for the long term.
Otherwise, we can expect that new subdivisions will go the way of Melody Ranch – increasingly unavailable to the large majority of the workforce.
The Hog Island application offered to provide vague housing restrictions in exchange for more than doubling the density in a far-flung suburban area of the county. It offered little, if any, binding commitments that would ensure that the housing would be – and would remain – affordable.
Investors Would Have Likely Bought Houses and Driven Up Costs
Before starting down the path of a proposed zone change for a project such as this, I need more assurances than were provided that a proposed development would offer the type of housing that we need in the community, rather than large, suburban-style houses on relatively large lots (approximately one-third of an acre, more or less) available only to the highest-income residents.
I need more assurances that outside investors won’t just purchase lots and rent them at full market rates, so long as they promised that the renters worked locally. I need more assurances that there would be compliance with commitments to housing only local workers.
The price of this real estate product would likely have been beyond the reach of teachers, firefighters, healthcare workers, law enforcement officers, restaurant workers, local business managers, and others who make this valley a community. Instead, I only saw more demand for more jobs, traffic, and growth.
Development Can – and Should – Benefit the Community
While there is nothing wrong with investing in real estate, it is counterproductive for the county to increase density in a suburban setting without assurances that the new development would actually help the people who work in our community.
I respect and admire the applicant and his consultants. My vote against the Hog Island development application is not a commentary on anyone. Rather, I have learned from experience in growing counties across the West that the character and reputation of a proponent is irrelevant, since real estate developments very often change hands time after time.
What matters is binding commitments for specific outcomes.
We've Still Got Work to Do South of Town
Teton County and its residents must still react to two major land-use decisions that were made without the support of the county: the widening of Highway 89 South and the siting of the new elementary school in Hog Island.
As the Comprehensive Plan already recognized before these two decisions, land along Highway 89 South – the closer to Smith’s the better – offers promise for expanding the supply of workforce housing.
With these land-use changes, the community has a sense of urgency to decide the future of South Park, Hog Island, and south of town. The vote against the proposed Hog Island development doesn't change that.
I am committed to workforce housing that actually addresses the needs for housing in this valley. I support increased density to get workforce housing, so long as there is a guarantee that the housing will serve working local families for the long term.
Demanding reasonable standards and sound planning is not ignoring the need for workforce housing – quite the contrary from my perspective. I will continue to leverage my land-use experience to ensure that development lives up to its promises and doesn't lead the community in the wrong direction.
Let's Get It Right on Housing…and Soon
Going forward, I would much prefer to see mixed density and prices, partnerships among landowners and local employers to provide housing, and investments to promote public transportation, rather than vehicle-dependent suburban development that worsens congestion.
We live in a special place where private land is limited. Land-use decisions are essentially permanent. An ad hoc, rushed, parcel-by-parcel approach rarely produces the best answer.
Instead, let’s get affordable workforce housing on the ground and ensure that new development also considers public transit, water-quality protection, wildlife connectivity, and other local priorities.