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Town council makes progress on workforce RV parking

April 17th Town Council Workshop

ShelterJH member Jack Maguire sat through and reported back on this week’s town council workshop about workforce camping. Here’s his report.

Overview

Town council made progress on a pilot project to allow workforce camping in town this summer. They landed on two basic ideas: (1) allow overnight-only RV/camper parking in a town parking lot, with permits only for local workers, and (2) allow RV camping in some town zones so that private landowners can open RV camping for local workers. Town staff is going to bring back more info at an upcoming town council meeting. You can send your ideas and reactions to council@townofjackson.com – feedback helps them do their job!

What happened

Summer workforce camping was the largest blocked off section on the workshop agenda and the discussion lasted over the 30 minute time period. The questions town council members had for their staff brought some light to the issue and showed that serious effort has been put toward trying to find a way to implement summer camping for our workforce. Here is a link to the Town Council’s Workshop Agenda for summer camping and here is a link to the live video of the whole discussion.

One option that was brought forward is for the Council to issue an emergency ordinance to allow RV parking in certain areas of Jackson. What happens in an emergency ordinance is the town declares an emergency, current ordinances are suspended, and new ordinances are issued for a set period of time. The town had been looking at issuing this under a first come first serve basis – meaning that anyone could take advantage of this RV parking, not just the workforce.

There was reluctance among the Town Council to use an emergency ordinance. Jim Stanford was the most vocal Town Council member in support of going through the normal process of holding three public hearings / ordinance readings on the issue (which takes minimum 10 days). Jim was confident that the Council and their staff would be able to get the work done before the summer season kicks off in earnest. Pete Muldoon was largely concerned about giving guarantees to the people who would be running camp sites or overnight parking areas. Primarily, that the Town government would give the private owner permission to build the business only to force them to shut down in the near future due to new or long standing regulations or other legal restrictions

A new idea

A brand-new proposal that was brought forward was for a 2.5 acre plot of land at 1080 South Highway 89 to be made into an overnight parking or camping location by a private owner. The hurdle which needs to be overcome for this plan to go forward is that currently no Land Development Regulations (LDRs) allow for camping on private property. Audrey Cohen-Davis, the town attorney, stated that the Town Council or the planning director could change the LDRs to allow camping either temporarily or permanently. An emergency ordinance could also be used to allow camping on private property.

The individual who has offered to start the business is Cody Wojtasic* and he was called to the microphone to elaborate on the business venture. Cody is the owner of an RV repair shop in Jackson and is looking to develop two plots of land, the previously mentioned plot in Jackson Hole at 1080 South Highway 89 and one in Hoback behind Cowboy Taxi, into short term housing/camp sites. Cody said that he wants them to be like the camp grounds by the Virginian, but not as large or bulky. If you decided to rent a spot at his camp you would have water, power, and your own area where you could park your RV, tiny home, or set up camp. Cody has currently set his price for rent at $800 a month.

Jim Stanford asked Cody if that price was too high for the workforce who are in need of affordable housing. Cody replied no, he thinks the price is fair especially in comparison to the $1200-2000 rent for a studio apartment in town. Cody stated that the barrier he was running into is that current regulations do not allow any camping on private property; the same barrier that Audrey had described earlier in the Workshop. If anything, that was the theme of the discussion about summer workforce camping. There is the possibility to do it but the main obstacle preventing the idea from moving forward is that current zoning regulations simply do not allow camping. After Cody’s presentation, the Town Council moved forward onto public comment.

Public comment

Jeff Walker was the first person to stand up and address the Council. His concern was focused on the “scope” of what the Town Council was trying to do. Jeff stated that the discussion and direction of this venture is moving away from trying to provide a place for our summer workforce and moving toward a camping for anyone strategy.  Jeff finished by commenting that he doesn’t want to see these new camping measures go to tourists or people just “coming to Jackson for the summer” and that a permit system for camping/overnight parking appeared to be the best way to assure that these measures reach Jackson’s summer workforce.

[Editor’s note: Jack Maguire, this author, was next. Jack spoke powerfully about the need for the Town Council to do something for our workforce. Jack grew up here and has worked in the service industry for years, and knows many people who camp in the woods or hide around town, and would much prefer to be able to camp somewhere legal and safe.]

The next person to come forward and share their opinion was Joe Kudar who owns the Kudar Motel and RV spaces. Joe stood up and advocated against the Town Council allowing other people to RV park/camp near his RV parking/camping. Joe stated that you would be taking away parking and that there might be crime that follows. Joe said he spent some of the previous years of his life in Green River where they allowed camping in the town limits for employees. Joe said that Green River experienced depreciation and a higher rate of crime in these areas as a result. Joe finished by saying that he hoped the Town Council would find somewhere else for workers to stay that isn’t near his property.

The final person to comment was Tim Rieser. He was assertive and asked the Town Council if we actually knew the number of employees, “the scale of the problem”, in Jackson who were forced to or were camping during the summers? Mayor Muldoon stated that this time was reserved for comment. At that point, Tim re-stated the question, said knowing the scale of the problem would help us find a solution, told the Town Council that was all he was asking, and took his seat.

Town council discussion

Town Councilors then wrapped up this section of the workshop with their own thoughts. The tone from all the Town Council members was far more accepting and positive than it was at the last meeting. All were in support of putting further investment of time and resources into figuring out the details of what summer camping would entail. Pete Muldoon was interested in having further public discussion on overnight parking by permit behind the Rec Center while Hailey Morton-Levinson supported exploring Cody Wojtasic’s proposals. Hailey further explained that she is interested in simplifying camping, that some sort of permit system is the way to go (so that it’s for workers only), and is still concerned about the Town Council being able to do this the right way the first time. Hailey said she was encouraged by the public input.

Don Frank was ecstatic about the proposal which Cody Wotasic brought forward because Cody is a private citizen who sees public need and is willing to take private risk to help. In Don’s opinion, as long as the plan is respectful of the neighbors’ needs, the Town Council should allow it to move forward. In a memorable line, Don said “carpe campground – seize the opportunity.”

The main concern supported by almost all Town Council members was to ensure that this effort would be to benefit the summer workforce and not to allow tourists to use this program. In general, they wanted the program to allow overnight parking only (to keep parking available for tourists during the day) and to require permits (so only our workers are parking there overnight) on some town parking lot TBD. The Town Council then moved for the staff to look further into overnight parking, camping, and the proposal for 1080 South Highway 89. All were in favor.

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