THE BUZZ: Housing Watch

By on May 16, 2017

Council OKs car camping and relaxed affordable housing regulations.

Home sweet home.

JACKSON HOLE, WY — Almost 12 hours of exhaustive town council meetings yielded, among other things, a handful of victories for housing projects, if being allowed to sleep in a car is considered housing (it is now). Starting June 16, members of Jackson’s workforce will likely be able to legally sleep in their cars in designated parking spots.

Town councilors directed staff to prepare an ordinance for reading that will allow overnight parking and car camping in a designated lot north of the Rec Center. The ordinance is in response to a proposal by the housing advocacy group Shelter JH.

For time’s sake, the final blueprint for the pilot program is “real barebones,” said councilman Jim Stanford. The town will designate 20 spaces for car camping in cars or attached campers from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. The site will not offer water or electricity, just a spot to park your car for the night. To ensure spots are occupied by the workforce, which was a concern for councilors throughout the lengthy discussion, the town will grant permits for each site to local employers, who can then distribute permits to employees as needed. That system, says Parks and Recreation director Steve Ashworth, guarantees that full-time eligible employees utilize the spots, and that spots are occupied consistently throughout the summer. “They purchase the permit as an employer for three months, and if their employee turns over, it’s available to another,” Ashworth explained.

Because the program is so rudimentary, councilors felt comfortable with the price tag. Between line painting, signs, porta-potties and two short-term charging stations, the program will cost the town an estimated $9,045. But the $15 charge per night is expected to cover all the cost, and is “extremely reasonable” for a downtown campsite, councilman Don Frank said.

Councilors voted four-to-one to move forward with the ordinance, with councilor Hailey Morton-Levinson the sole dissenting voice. “I’ve been consistent in saying we get one chance,” she said. “I hope [in the fall] you’re telling me, ‘I told you so,’ but I’m not going to support it at this time.” Instead, Morton-Levinson said she wants to budget for a “more permanent option” for 2018.

“Hopefully in the fall I’ll get to tell you I told you so,” Mayor Pete Muldoon responded. Muldoon acknowledged that the program is not “a great solution, but it’s the best we have.”

Calling it a pilot program appeased Frank and Councilor Jim Stanford. “It’s a small step, and a worthwhile experiment,” Stanford said.

Frank supported the program despite his initial reluctance. In previous discussions, he had echoed public concerns that parking lots were an unsustainable solution to such a vast housing crisis. Still, on Monday he said he was willing to give it a shot. “There’s a very clear need for relief,” he said.

Staff still has to draft the ordinance to allow for overnight parking, which will undergo a series of three readings before the June 16 starting date. The final motion also includes language that allows “staff to make dynamic adjustments” to the program as they see fit, per Muldoon’s request.

Tenant protections

In another victory for Shelter JH, councilors voted unanimously to approve a seven-person task force to guide discussions and future policy on tenant protections.

The task force’s first order of business is to discuss and make recommendations regarding a proposed licensing program that would require business licenses for landowners leasing one or more residential units.

Doing so would hold landlords more accountable for regular inspections and livability standards, though there is concern that such a requirement and a $100 fee would deter landowners from leasing their units.

The council essentially agreed to put the responsibility on the task force, and trust whatever suggestions members make. “It’s a well-assembled group,” Frank said. “I think we should engage the task force, and trust them to do this work.”

Other task force discussion points include minimum property maintenance standards, and amended contested case rules to make the process of reporting problems, like leaky roofs or faulty heat, less intimidating for tenants. “It’s a more administrative process as opposed to a criminal process,” explained town attorney Audrey Cohen-Davis.

Councilors have yet to make any policy decisions on tenant protections, but the mission of the task force is to guide them in doing so. The task force will hold bi-weekly meetings from now until July 17, at which time it will present recommendations to the council. The seven task force members are Shelter JH board member Rosie Read, public health representative Emily Freeland, landlord Todd Oliver, property manager Tina Korpi, Shelter JH board member and faith leader Mary Erickson, landlord Monay Olson, and property manager Kevin Kavanaugh.

Hidden Hollow inches ahead

Developers from Hansen & Hansen LLP are one step closer to breaking ground on a 168-unit housing project on North Cache. Town council unanimously approved a development plan for Phase 1a of the project, which is only for utilities like sewers, water, pathways and sidewalks, roadways, and gas.

Approving a development plan in pieces is not the usual order of business, Stanford noted, but town planning director Tyler Sinclair said doing so on this project is in the interest of time. “[The applicants] were ready with utility drawings two months before they were ready to submit architectural drawings,” Sinclair said. Now, developers can get a head start on laying the groundwork for the development.

“We’re not going to do anything we can’t finish,” said applicant Zane Powell of Hansen & Hansen LLP. “We’re here to get a head start. These things have to get done.”

Developers will come back to the council with a development plan for actual building construction in a few months time. The project is a mixed-unit development of 13 detached single-family units, 20 attached singe-family units (townhomes), and 135 attached single-family units.

Councilors approved the development plan under three conditions: that the applicant and the town enter into a development agreement, to be separately reviewed on June 5, outlining cost responsibilities for “oversized and off-site improvements,” like burying power lines; that the developer pay for the full cost of a five-foot sidewalk on the south side of Mercill Street, which borders the property; and that the applicant submit a Letter of Map Revision with FEMA and pay the associated fees.

Adios affordable standards

And finally, after months of contentious debate, an ordinance exempting new apartment buildings of 20 units or more from affordable housing standards passed in a third reading after no discussion at all.

If you’re just tuning in, the ordinance is an amendment to Land Development Regulations (LDRs). For the next five years (a five-year sunset clause was one of the council’s conditions of approval), all new apartment buildings of 20 units or more (for context, the Grove phase 1 is 20 units) will no longer have to regulate any of their units “affordable.” Instead, applicants argued that dense apartment buildings are inherently affordable and work-force occupied.

The ordinance is a victory for applicant and restaurateur Joe Rice, who can move forward with his proposed 90-unit apartment complex unencumbered by affordable housing standards, which he argued are crippling to developers. PJH

 

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