THE BUZZ: Barred J Buckwagon

By on August 2, 2016

Famed cowboy cookout raises hackles on 390.

 A 30-year-old Jackson institution, Bar J Chuckwagon wants to sell, but at what cost? (Photo: Bar J Chuckwagon)

A 30-year-old Jackson institution, Bar J Chuckwagon wants to sell, but at what cost? (Photo: Bar J Chuckwagon)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – The quaint cowboy cookout in Jackson Hole hosted by the Bar J Wranglers has hit a sour note of late, and the jubilee has been anything but since the Humphrey family began singing a different tune. After announcing their intent last summer to sell the 21-acre plot on Teton Village Road, where they have performed their dinner/concert chuckwagon show since the early 1980s, the range war over what may come next has developed into a “high noon” showdown this summer.

‘Heading from the home corral’

Developers representing the Humphrey family initially proposed 40 duplexes on the property in a deal that involved swapping latent development rights with neighboring Teton Pines. That plan in August 2015 was met with immediate pushback from Pines homeowners and chairman of the owners association there, Frank Christensen. The group sought to protect their property values in the posh country club.

When that deal fell apart neighbors breathed a sigh of relief. It was short-lived. As this summer heated up, so again did Bar J fiddling. This time, Sotheby’s broker Steve Hancock turned up the pressure. He submitted a proposal to the county for 69 units—20 affordables and 49 at market rate. And again, neighbors balked.

“The proposed Bar J development is not consistent with the neighborhood, is not what the residents voted for, and is nothing but a money grab by a few selfish people that have no interest in the future of Jackson Hole or the will of its residents,” Nelson Braddy said. He’s spearheaded an ad hoc group called Alliance 390, opposing development at the Bar J. “This doesn’t seem to be consistent with the neighborhood. It’s not that any of us are antidevelopment. I have a background in commercial development and construction, so I’m certainly not antidevelopment. I think the Humphreys have every right to either sell the property or develop the property as long as it does three things: adhere to the Comprehensive Plan, adhere to the LDRs, and adhere to current zoning on the property.”

Braddy, who owns a home in the Pines, maintains density in that area runs counter to the comp plan. He also points to zoning, an issue he feels is being overlooked in the public discussion.

“They are putting this information out to the public couching the residential development as a downzone. When in effect it is just the opposite. It is an upzone,” Braddy said. “And that’s the crux of the problem. If they want to develop over there, if they wanted to build six or seven houses, and put in two or three affordable houses, whatever, the opposition wouldn’t say anything. But they are going for something that really requires a complete abandonment of their master plan and a rezone. That’s where we have a problem because we don’t think what they are doing is consistent with anything.”

‘Yippi yi your troubles away’

Concerned neighbors were ruffled by the proposed density but after an email from county principal planner Roby Hurley to the developers surfaced, Alliance 390 lawyered up. The email, sent on April Fool’s Day, was sent to developers in response to their pre-application. In it, Hurley suggests developers could try for a rezone to a PUD.

Braddy jumped on it immediately.

“We read that and said, ‘what?’” Braddy said. “Because the last iteration of the LDRs prevented any more use of the PUD in the county. We went to the county and said wait a minute, this can’t be right. They said, ‘Oh yeah, this is what we are going to try to do. We said, ‘You can’t. It’s black and white in the LDRs: no new PUDs in the county.’”

Meanwhile, Jim Lubing, representing the Bar J, insisted his clients never asked for nor wanted a PUD. How developers intended to get 69 units approved under the current zoning of the property, which is NC-SF (Neighborhood Conservation Single Family), is unclear. As of press time, Hancock had not returned phone calls for comment.

Alliance 390 hired Matt Kim-Miller to file an appeal. That was dismissed last week when the county conceded that any amending of the Bar J master plan to a PUD would not be allowable. That satisfied Alliance 390 enough to back off from legal action but it remains to be seen where the full-page advertising feud goes from here.

‘Gold mine in the sky’

During the legal tussle, things became volatile between developers representing Bar J and those in opposition. Alliance members cried foul over a full-page ad in the News&Guide that introduced a survey, asking the public to choose between, what Braddy claims, was “two false options.”

Basically the ad stated the community could have it one of two ways: A nice residential area with plenty of affordable housing for firemen, or a threat to ramp up their cowboy concert operation with breakfast, lunch, and dinner shows.

“They put out this phony baloney ad,” Braddy said. “For one, that survey has zero credibility since it offered an opportunity to win $1,000 by participating. It drew responses from people living in Ecuador, Canada—they just wanted to win a thousand dollars. Secondly, the proposed commercial option, which is not permitted on the Bar J, was so outrageous as to be laughable. The only thing missing in the plan was a roller coaster.”

‘Don’t fence me in’

Bar J’s master plan dates back to 1977. It was amended in 1988. Throughout the decades the zoning is referred to as residential NC-SF with a commercial component allowing for the chuckwagon show and other Western amenities. Developers would presumably have to wiggle out from under that zoning somehow. First, though, they attempted to skirt the required EA (Environmental Analysis). That request was denied by planning director Tyler Sinclair.

Braddy said, “The county made them do an environmental analysis after developers tried to get an exemption. That told me a few things about their intent. The county then went to the state and asked for their opinion.”

The state’s opinion, in the form of a letter from Game and Fish, stated that the Bar J property was adjacent to crucial moose winter range and the tenth-of-a-mile stretch of highway in front of it was the highest moose-vehicle collision area in the county.

“Additional development in this area may exacerbate moose-human conflicts,” wrote G&F. The property also falls under a “Bear Conflict Priority 1” zone, and is home to wolves, bears, and other large predators.

‘The last roundup’

While the recent legal battle may be cooled for now, fallout from the ad war has created permanent scars and hurt feelings. Mean-spirited advertisements launched by the Humphrey family didn’t win them many friends as their marketing campaign escalated to name-calling. The latest iteration referred to those in opposition to development as entitled “West Bank Brats” who were primarily “lock and leave” second homeowners.

Carla Watsabaugh, for one, took exception at the shot, which Braddy said was a play on his last name. She penned a scathing letter to the editor.

“It smacks of a certain desperation when you paint all of us who live on or around 390 as rich, uppity, selfish, second homeowners,” Watsabaugh wrote. “We ‘West Bank Brats,’ as you refer to us, have viable concerns and they go beyond ‘not in our backyard.’ Frankly, our backyard is full. Traffic [is] often bumper-to-bumper on 390. Why would we want to exacerbate this condition in a wildlife corridor? Certainly not to put money in your pocket.

“You, Mr. Hancock, and those who support this project, are not about to be part of the solution to affordable housing and the heinous traffic situations we are currently facing. Don’t pretend you are. You spewed propaganda. You may have erred publishing that pathetic, insulting ad. I believe the fight is on.” PJH

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