Another shot for Munger housing

May 22, 2019

After developer Larry Huhn pleaded with them to reconsider, Teton County commissioners are giving a proposal to build workforce housing at Hog Island a second chance.

“Future generations won’t be housed by us talking about it,” Huhn said. “They will be housed if we choose to actually do something. I believe that is what we voted you in office for. Make this housing a reality that will work for and serve this community.”

The Teton County Board of County Commissioners agreed Tuesday to schedule a meeting in early June to discuss Huhn’s plan to add a new neighborhood 7 miles south of town.

“We still have people clamoring to have an opportunity to see this get fleshed out by the county commission,” Commissioner Mark Barron said.

For eight months, Huhn, who owns Hoback Market and rental units at Old West Cabins, has pushed to build 155 units of single-family housing on 84 acres next to Munger Mountain Elementary School. Huhn’s team said that the new school, new 6-inch sewer and new five-lane highway south of town make the area suitable for concentrating workforce housing there.

But the town and county’s comprehensive plan envisions that area as remaining rural with light industrial use, so town and county planners required Huhn to ask the Jackson Town Council and county commission to amend the comprehensive plan.

On April 23 town and county elected officials rejected the application in a 7-2 vote. They cited concerns about the homes’ permanent affordability and adding to traffic and sprawl.

At a Tuesday meeting, Huhn appeared at the county chambers to make another plea, asking for a chance to talk through concerns and promising 100% owner-occupied houses deed-restricted for workers. He asked the commission to reconsider moving his project forward.

Commission Vice Chairman Greg Epstein said that in fairness to Huhn and to the community, the board should hear him out. Epstein noted the board has “heard a lot of commentary” from the community about the plan’s rejection in April.

“In all fairness to that developer, I’d love to hear what he wants to bring back to us,” Epstein said.

Other commissioners, while they agreed to meet with Huhn, expressed more skepticism about the plan.

While Commissioner Mark Newcomb was ultimately for reopening the conversation about the vision for Hog Island, he said he would like to see “a balanced approach that would guarantee in perpetuity a high level of wildlife permeability and mobility, as well as our goal of workforce housing.”

Commissioner Luther Propst was wary of “parcel-by-parcel planning,” saying he would want clarity on the scope of the meeting beforehand. He said he’d prefer to include a broader discussion of the whole Hog Island area, or even consideration of northern South Park, too.

“I think we are likely to produce a better, more comprehensive, holistic outcome by looking at more than just one piece of property,” Propst said.

Epstein, however, wanted to focus on Huhn’s pitch.

“I think because this particular development has its own level of specificity, and I feel like maybe some of the questions weren’t necessarily fleshed out in our other meetings, that we should take this as a stand-alone, learn from it, and then we can apply that,” Epstein said.

Ahead of the June meeting, Huhn said, he plans to meet with county planning staff, including new Interim Planning Director Jo Ellen Charlton, and bring the commission ideas for zoning, deed restrictions and subdivision sketches for consideration. He’s relieved to have an opportunity for an informal, simple conversation where he can answer elected officials’ questions.

“I believe there’s a supermajority of citizens in this county that support this project that addresses worker ownership of single-family homes,” Huhn told the board.

Commission Chairwoman Natalia Macker was absent from the meeting.

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