GUEST OPINION: Don’t let Jackson become Vail

By on March 10, 2015

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – A dozen years ago my girlfriend Stacy (now wife of nearly nine years) gave me a T-shirt that still rings true. It was a plain white shirt with the words “Vail Sucks” across the chest.

Slightly inappropriate? Yes. Accurate? Absolutely.

We had spent an early April weekend in Vail skiing and enjoying the nightlife before heading south for some additional skiing in Silverton and then on to the desert southwest (part of the seasonal Jackson migration to warmer climes).

Driving out of town I couldn’t stop thinking about what was wrong with Vail. The skiing was OK, though a little boring. The freeway slicing through the middle of town didn’t help. The faux-Western architecture definitely cheesed things up.

But it was the fact that every night the town emptied out and only tourists remained that made Vail feel all wrong. Vail isn’t a community; it’s a resort.

Vail got this way in large part because of land use rules that encouraged too much commercial development and lodging, instead of housing for its workforce. Accordingly, Vail lost its balance and residents were forced to move down valley so that at night, only visitors remained.

There’s an old saying, “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.” And this couldn’t be truer than right now.

As currently crafted, the proposed update to the District 2 (Downtown) land development regulations (LDRs) would encourage a dramatic expansion of commercial development in Downtown Jackson along with significant expansion of lodging, short-term rentals, and higher-end condos (i.e. second homes); while failing to encourage housing for our diverse workforce and not linking the changes in town to the permanent protection of open space in our rural areas.

Right now, under the proposed District 2 LDRs, Jackson is poised to follow in Vail’s footsteps toward becoming just another resort.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

We have a responsibility to write land use rules that align with our community’s vision as articulated in our Comprehensive Plan: A vision of a community with walkable neighborhoods surrounded by protected open space, working agricultural lands, and connected wildlife habitat. A community where at least two-thirds of our diverse workforce can affordably rent or purchase a safe and healthy home that meets their family’s needs.

To achieve this vision the proposed District 2 LDRs should zone for more housing, less commercial development, and less lodging while directly linking District 2 changes to permanent protection of open space in our rural areas.

The last thing any of us want is to become like Vail. Together we can fulfill our responsibility to write land use rules that align with our community’s vision and keep Jackson a strong community.

Please email the Town Council today at [email protected], and tell them not to let Jackson become another Vail.

About Craig Benjamin

Craig Benjamin is the executive director of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance.


  1. Closed Spacer

    March 13, 2015 at 4:46 pm

    Open-Spacers have driven up the price of real estate and driven down wages. It’s part of the housing problem. Same with any development and onerous regulations on development. The housing ‘problem’ is in an uncontrollable feedback loop that no destination resort in North America will fix if they want to grow or maintain property values (they all do). Anyone think the Jackson Hole Mountain resort doesn’t want more skiers? It’s not just resorts. New York, San Francisco – same ‘problem’. The idiots in this town voted for more tourists with the lodging tax.

  2. Closed Spacer

    March 13, 2015 at 4:50 pm

    The ‘fake’ town (Town Square) is exactly as described by Craig – faux-western architecture all cheesed up with a stage coach and gun fight. We built the Taj Mahal of Industrial Bus Barns next to a beautiful meadow instead of employee housing, or a beautiful meadow. We have one of the ugliest main drags in the mountain west – Broadway. It’s busier than Wilshire Blvd on a summer day but without any notable distinction that marks that historic route through Los Angeles.

    There’s just enough tacky (and so cliché) art to make us look like a metropolis put together by the same people who favor pink flamingos and gnomes. We pretend we care about the environment while our little hamlet is responsible for more carbon footprints than the entire coal seam that made the Kemmerer family wealthy enough to buy out the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. We are the same as every resort town. We have the same ‘problems’. We cater to tourists. We dish out low wages. We import labor. We shack up with 40-year-old strangers in rental units. We go without health care & retirement funds. We ski, climb, bike, hike, and run the river. It’s not bad but let’s not pretend it’s paradise in Jackson with the way things are (or leaving things as they are – unVailed). The old housing stock will go – probably to lawyers. Nothing remains static and Jackson is anything but static.

  3. pete

    March 14, 2015 at 6:57 pm

    I think the Alliance created this dystopia in the first place. Environmentalism in Jackson hole is about maintaing and increasing real estate values.

  4. Matt

    April 1, 2015 at 6:05 pm

    Vail doesn’t suck. What would suck is living in the middle of nowhere next to a super volcano. Cold enough up there?

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