Planners delay action on Hog Island homes

March 13, 2019

After running out the clock at last week’s meeting, town and county planning commissioners delayed responding to a proposal that would add housing density adjacent to Munger Mountain Elementary School.

Scott Pierson, a consultant on the project, asked planning commissioners not to vote the project “up or down” in the Thursday meeting. He requested time for the community and leaders to vet and refine the proposal’s details.

Larry Huhn, who owns Hoback Market, seeks to build 125 to 200 units of workforce housing on 84 acres south of town. The land’s zoning calls for the area to remain rural with some light industrial, but Huhn’s team has submitted an application to amend the community’s Comprehensive Plan to allow for increased housing density.

Town and county staff recommended denying the application, saying the community should stick to its 2012 vision for Hog Island despite infrastructure upgrades like an expanded highway and sewer system. Dense workforce housing, staff said, belongs in town, not outlying rural areas that are distant from services.

But with high land costs, affordable single-family homes downtown aren’t feasible, Pierson said. The latest town and county housing project seeks to replace a single-family home with a three-story complex of at least 15 units. Also, Pierson said, “Many of the housing options proposed in town are not optimal for families with children and pets.”

A new change to state law allowing Teton County landowners to subdivide chunks of land for their kids — unregulated by the county — has the potential to lead to a Hog Island neighborhood, Pierson said.

”Suddenly you have an unplanned development that has no connections to a sewer system, that has no transportation integration, it just happens coincidentally,” Pierson said. “I think we have an opportunity to plan this area.”

Several spoke in favor of the proposal, stressing the community’s need for more affordable housing inventory.

“We all know there’s a lot of unanswered questions with regard to this development,” said Kendra Heimbuck, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of the Greater Teton Area.

“But, on behalf of Habitat, I just want to state we are fully supportive of affordable housing and workforce housing options for our community and see there is potential for this site.”

Fernando Ramos, manager of the White Buffalo Club, said his employees are searching for ways to stay in the community. He asked elected officials to explore the proposal, “to give it a chance for everyone who is asking for housing and affordable housing.”

But neighbors worried that increased density would spoil the rural character of Hog Island. There was also pushback on amending the comp plan on account of a single development proposal that hasn’t been vetted.

“It’s a little scary facing an amendment to our comprehensive plan and our community vision without knowing what’s going to come afterwards,” said Leah Zamesnik, conservation policy manager at the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance.

If density is added to Hog Island, she said, it should be removed from elsewhere in the county.

Discussion will continue at 6 p.m. March 20 at Town Hall.