ELECTION 2014: Mayoral candidates talk valley’s big issues

By on October 29, 2014

Planet Jackson Hole wraps up its Town of Jackson mayoral coverage with side-by-side comparisons on where candidates Sara Flitner and Mark Nowlin stand when it comes to the valley’s shortage of workforce housing, the Budge hill slide, and Jackson’s notoriously laborious and expensive planning process.

Planet Jackson Hole: Housing, housing, housing… We’re hearing a lot on the subject during the campaign. Is there anything government can do to help house our workforce?

Sara Flitner

Sara Flitner

Sara Flitner: I support housing 65 percent of the workforce locally. I support it because it’s a selfish wish of how I want the community to be. I want to walk down the street and meet Jake and say, “Hi.” I want to meet my teachers. I think what makes Jackson different than any other resort community I’ve ever visited is we are a community first. That means we’ve got to work together – private sector and town. It’s going to take all hands on deck to keep that number. There’s no silver bullet. We are going to have to continue what we’ve already done, only better.

To me, it starts with a very serious conversation with the business community about what the thresholds are. From a mitigation standpoint, we kind of know what works to get housing on the ground. From the government side, I don’t think we are as well schooled as I would like us to be from the business community’s perspective.

MarkNowlin

Mark Nowlin

Mark Nowlin: There is always a lack of housing in Jackson, perpetually. The current situation was exacerbated by the government taking too long to get the Comprehensive Plan done, and to put in the LDRs. Even if we walk in tomorrow and approve the LDRs in three seconds, which we can’t, the development community will need time to look at them and assess what we are doing and they’ll get cement in the ground maybe, MAYBE next summer. And I’ve heard from sources that there are people in the community that have sort of started to put things into the pipeline but they are holding off until they are sure what the final LDRs are. They’ve been playing on a Candy Land game board then suddenly the town says we are going to make it a chess game. They need to know what the game is so they can plan accordingly.

I think that’s why we have the current terrible situation we have with the employees. If we can find a way to make it better for the employees for the next two summers rather than have them moving every two weeks from campgrounds on the forest. If we could find some way to bring them in to town so they at least don’t have to smell like camp smoke when they wait on us in the morning at the Virginian, you know? The quick fix will have to be next summer and that’s not going to be anything permanent. It’s almost like you need a popup village somewhere for the summer. But there are empty lots around town where maybe you could let someone park a small camp trailer and that would still be better than having them drive in from the top of the Elk Refuge.

PJH: Budge Drive is a budget dive. Are you looking forward to walking into that mess?

SF: From my perspective, let’s move ahead and fix it. That’s the role of the town. We have got to be responsible for the public’s welfare. That doesn’t mean we should ignore facts or data that come in including what happened and in what order. The courts and the lawyers and the parties should figure out what is fair. There are private property rights at stake, public welfare at stake – a lot of stakeholders that should be taken into consideration. But as far as what’s the greatest value the mayor and town council can have? Move forward, solve the problem, spending the least amount of money possible and keeping the public safe.

I’m in listening mode. I support them to take action to make the right of way and the utilities safer before the snow flies. That makes sense to me. I’ve been at all the meetings so far. Long term, I really hope it can be a mediated settlement.

MN: I’m going to move forward, and I’m sure the lawyers will look back. When that was happening, I told somebody, I said, “I’ll bet these lawyers are buying their second home in Teton on speculation that they’re going to have a lawsuit here.” There’s plenty of responsibility to go around for everybody that’s been involved in that hill from the beginning. I’m sure they’ll figure it out. I think getting the utilities up the hill somehow and figure out how to get a safer driveway up there even if that means locating it somewhere else. But that will all take time.

I’m in listening mode at this point. We have to get them through the winter and then next summer look at a serious long-term solution to it because that can’t happen again. It’s too expensive.

PJH: Many have complained the planning process is too cumbersome and costly. You feeling that? What can be done?

SF: It’s really tough. Not to beat a dead horse on the problem-solving, collaborative thing, but there really is a science and a skill to it, and I’m trained that way. It’s a balance. I do think the planning process is lengthy and arduous. In a community like Jackson, we do have to be careful. It’s amazing and the best place on the planet as far as I’m concerned. I have a business. I want to be able to take care of my family along with my husband. That’s what most small business owners want to be able to do. And some of the thresholds make it impossible for them to do that. So we have to listen. We’ve spent the last five years developing the Comp Plan and the LDRs. Now we have a plan. Let’s pass the dang thing and move forward.

MN: If you think you can come in and build a building you will always be paying affordable housing exaction fees and what not. You can’t just say, “Oh they’re young people just trying to start a business, we aren’t going to charge them.” The big guys would be excited by that and take us to court. It’s very convoluted and there are just not easy answers out there.

I was talking to someone last night about how we all got here and how it was. It was in one of the new affordable units over on Kelly. The people had just gotten one. They were all young people. I looked around and thought, “It’s small but it’s nice.”

We all came from the same place. When my generation came back in here, we were living in cabins, cutting our own firewood, fishing for food, not for sport. We struggled through and had several odd jobs and started our own businesses and it was hard. It always is hard. If you are going to live here you are going to have to have some tenacity about wanting to live here. If you come as a basic work-level person it’s hard and there’s not any way to make it easy. But then once you get through and stay the course, it is the best community in the world, in my mind. We take care of each other. We love the outdoors. What’s not to love about living here? Except mud season maybe.

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