THE BUZZ: Hotels not Housing?
Large Town Square hotel project gets nod of approval from planning commission, drawing ire from residents.
JACKSON HOLE, WY – Less than a year after housing advocates marched through Jackson holding signs that read, “Housing not Hotels,” the Jackson Planning Commission approved a sketch plan Wednesday for a large hotel just off the Town Square.
Crystal Creek Capital real estate development and Carney Logan Burke architects submitted their sketch plan application including a conditional use permit for the redevelopment of the Wells Fargo bank property located at 112 Center Street and 165 E. Deloney Street.
Crystal Creek’s plan is to remove all existing buildings on the Wells Fargo site and replace them with a 99-room hotel, that will include a 4,544-square-foot restaurant and bar, retail spaces, and employee housing. Town planning staff recommended approval of the sketch plan, and the planning commission granted the project unanimous approval at its regular meeting March 15.
According to Crystal Creek’s president Jim Walter, the Jackson/Teton County Comprehensive Plan calls for the building site to be “the center of the visitor experience; the center of economic activity; the starting point for the refined lodging overlay; a vibrant mixed-use area; and an active, engaging experience for pedestrians.” He said his project meets all these objectives.
However, because of Jackson’s housing crisis and rising traffic problems, some people in the community expressed concern when reports of the 75,000-square-foot hotel surfaced last week.
Shelter JH representative Mary Erickson said that the housing advocacy group opposes the hotel. “Another big hotel will exacerbate the two primary issues our community is facing, housing and infrastructure,” she said. “This is not the time to be building more hotels when our community already cannot house its workforce or manage the quantity of vehicles on our roads.”
Longtime local Joan Anzelmo said she was “stunned” when she heard that a new hotel was planned for the Town Square. “At a time when elected officials are asking the local community to step up to the plate and vote to approve a SPET measure to fund workforce housing, they are still enacting policies that enable commercial development,” she said.
Erickson, however, cautioned against blaming town officials for current regulations. The hotel sketch plan meets all current land development regulations and Comprehensive Plan requirements for the area’s zoning, according to town principal planner Paul Anthony, a fact that Erickson did not dispute.
“Town council has no real ability to stop the project,” Erickson said. “This is important for people to understand because the town council will undoubtedly be vilified for ‘allowing’ this project to move forward. It is out of their hands.”
Crystal Creek went before the town’s design committee twice before approval by the planning commission. “At each step of the way we are reading what the Comp Plan, planning staff, planning commission and design review committee have defined for this location, and we are responding to it,” Walter said.
Planning commissioner Missy Falcey said she thinks the hotel will add vitality to the Town Square. She praised the project for sticking to the Comp Plan. “As a commissioner, it is refreshing to see a sketch plan that meets current regulations, is consistent with the Comp Plan, and exceeds workforce housing requirements,” she said.
Workforce housing is a contentious issue in the valley, as businesses struggle to attract and retain staff. Increasingly, workers commute long distances—or live in sub-par housing—in order to work in Jackson.
Tyler Valentine, an associate planner with the town’s planning and building department, said commercial developers are not required to plan housing for every single employee they intend to hire, but they do have to provide some housing. “Whenever you have commercial development, it requires employee housing based on square footage,” Valentine said. “You have to mitigate something.”
Crystal Creek’s employee housing mitigation includes 6,136 square feet of deed-restricted housing, which is 1,604 more square feet than they are required to build. However, the exact number of employees to be housed has yet to be determined.
Falcey said that public outcry over the hotel is misguided. “Should the community question this project relative to our pressing needs in the area of affordable housing and employment, I suggest they turn their attention to the completion of the LDRs in other town districts,” she said. “Those are the areas that we are looking to for housing solutions, rather than from the economically unattainable Town Square zone”
Meanwhile the hotel sketch plan is due to come before the town council on April 17. Town councilors have yet to see the plan, and are awaiting a staff report. Vice Mayor Jim Stanford said that he plans to give it careful consideration based on community concerns.
“The last time Jim Walter of Crystal Creek Capital came to the council for his condo project at the base of Snow King, I asked him how he could proceed with such a project given the community’s dire need for housing,” Stanford said. “I imagine I will ask him similar questions this time.”
Walter told PJH that Crystal Creek understands the need to house its workers. “Since we will be the owners and operators of this mixed-use project, we share in the need to find housing for our employees,” he said.
Because councilors have not reviewed the project’s sketch plan, Stanford preferred not to comment on Crystal Creek’s housing mitigation plan. However, he did say that the housing provision in the town’s current regulations is “weak” and is due for revision within the next year.
Erickson urged the public to stay informed about when the commercial housing mitigation standards come up for review. “These standards are woefully inadequate,” she said.
“If the public is angry about this kind of project, they need to speak up when the town revises these rules and demand a much higher housing mitigation standard than what is currently in place.” PJH
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