What will the town of Jackson, spreading out in a locale of unparalleled grandeur beneath the Grand Tetons, look like in 20 years?
Local planners want to know if there will be affordable housing low or moderate income residents who work in the service sector, or if the area will turn into an exclusive retreat for those able to pay cash for second homes costing several million dollars.Planners in Wyoming's Teton County, which abuts Idaho's eastern border, are discussing those issues and how to preserve the scenic quality of the area. It forms the heart of a tourism-based economy but needs to accommodate growth and still protect the quality of life prized by the valley's 13,000-some residents.
Consultants will be hired, and planners hope to have new comprehensive planning and zoning ordinances adopted in 18 months to guide development in town and the county for the next 20 years.
Until the plan is written, Teton County commissioners have approved interim regulations, which in the last year have created controversy and incorrectly been called a building moratorium. County planners say there are restrictions but no moratorium.
"A lot of misinformation has circulated," says Teresa deGroh, a county planner.
One interim regulation that commissioners approved in March requires potential subdivision developers to submit a concept plan showing topography and to go through a planned unit development process, deGroh said.
It creates a slightly longer process than usual for developers but allows planners to have more control over keeping subdivisions from sensitive areas.
Subdivisions and roads cannot be built within a quarter-mile of the Snake River, but there is no prohibition on subdivisions. No buildings or roads are permitted within 300 feet of streams, either.
"We want to protect the Snake River riparian areas for wildlife," she said. "We're hoping to define our future. In the meantime, we don't want a subdivision coming in that will subvert goals of the long-range plan."
There is a prohibition on the creation of commercial lots, but there's no restriction of development on existing commercial lots.
The restrictions need not negatively impact the building industry, she said. "Anyone with an existing residential building site in the county can build."
There are 3,800 existing residential building sites in Teton County. Although some are ridiculous home sites, "even if half are available, that's still a heck of a lot of building sites."
Developers hoping to build subdivisions in the valley are at a disadvantage because the real estate market is so strong that a person desiring a second home can usually outbid a developer who wants land.
Modest developers who are trying to provide affordable housing are being outbid for land.
DeGroh tells a favorite story: "A guy bought 100 acres with 34 development rights on it. He split it into four sites. Three-acre lots are selling for $200,000, depending on the location," she said. People are buying 35- to 40-acre tracts, up to 100 acres, and are putting one, two or three-home sites on that tract.
Planners looked at mortgages to determine what was driving the Jackson Hole real estate market. Many homes aren't financed through mortgage companies.
"People are paying cash. It's a phenomenal second-home market," she said.
Most people in that category don't live in the valley. They might be from California where they sold a home, have literally millions of dollars in profit and want to live in Jackson.
That strong real estate market hurts the rental market, because people don't want to rent their homes when they can sell them for exorbitant profits.
"Our rental market is really hurting. And it's almost impossible to find a house under $90,000. It just goes up from there," deGroh said.
Affordable housing in the valley - another issue that will be discussed in the long-range plan - is disappearing, forcing many in the service sector to live illegally in campgrounds during summer tourist seasons.
"I don't know what we'll do," she said. "It's a complicated issue."