Election 2020

ShelterJH Candidate Questionnaire: County Commission

*Candidate Peter Long did not submit a response to Shelter JH’s questionnaire.

There’s a lot of talk about new development in Northern South Park providing homes that local workers can afford. What is your vision for Northern South Park? What income levels and kinds of workers should be able to afford the homes, and what price point serves those income levels? How can our community make sure the homes actually reach those local workers?

  • Christian Beckwith: We’ve heard a lot in recent weeks about the imminent retirement of more than 100 hospital employees, the ways this will exacerbate the emergent issue of workforce housing for our community, and the generosity of the Gill Family for proposing a one-stop solution to address both with a simple upzone of 74 acres of their private property. We’ve heard less about the conservation easements that will be employed to offset impacts to wildlife, or the precise diversity of housing options that will be provided to meet the diversity of community housing needs. And we’ve heard nothing about the impact of Gill Family’s adjacent 26 acres that are already zoned Suburban, or the impact of 14 adjacent acres, also zoned Suburban, owned by the Lockhart Family, or the East-West Connector that would be built through the Lockhart property, presumably by eminent domain, to create redundancy, or the upzoning that will be requested by the Lockharts as part of the development of their land.As a candidate for Teton County Commission, I find the omissions in the current public relations campaign concerning.

    I also find it concerning that The Town of Jackson has not agreed to allow the proposed new South Park housing developments to connect to the town’s wastewater treatment facility. This poses major problems for our already critical wastewater management issue that need to be resolved before any zoning changes are made.

    Northern South Park is the right place for a housing solution to our housing needs. The timing is certainly right, too.

    Both the Gills, and the Lockharts, have every right to make money on their property.

    And they’ll make a lot. Conservative estimates place the profits for the Gill Family alone at more than $100,000,000.

    But with Northern South Park, as with all our development opportunities, we need to go slow to go long.

    I believe our elected officials need to complete the Growth Management Program review and Comprehensive Plan update to determine if and under what terms the proposed Northern South Park should be developed.

    Then, our community, elected officials and staff must begin a neighborhood planning effort that takes into consideration the longterm implications of the development on our infrastructure, wildlife and habitat resources.

    In exchange for the enormous value that would be created for the proposed upzone, I would like to see a a diversity of housing options that meet our community’s diversity of housing needs. In particular, I would like to see substantial increases to the current proposal of 10% of deed restrictions, as well as “foolproof” and permanent deed restrictions; more housing for $300-500K levels; an inclusionary approach to all upzones; and a mix of product types to serve a spectrum of housing needs.

  • Greg Epstein: If approached with a community first mindset North South Park should be a neighborhood that allows for all income levels. With the proper zoning tools created in the county we should hopefully be able to incentivize the land owners to create multiple tiers of affordable/ workforce housing while also exercising free market development rights. Whether deed restrictions for density are used, or reducing the 1 per 35 acre in the rural regulation for deed restrictions I know there is a workable solution that can be inclusive for all income ranges.
  • Wes Gardner: I recently gave public comment regarding the Gills application for Northern South Park. While I am happy that the Gills have chosen to pursue this development, I recommended denial of the current version of the application. There are two important issues that remain unresolved- assurance of perpetual affordability for the 65% of covenant restricted lots, and the lack of a comprehensive neighborhood vision for the 5.6 subarea. It is important that the County take this moment to negotiate these areas of interest before allowing for the rezoning of this parcel. It is critical that we maintain our leverage (zoning) while negotiating issues of affordability, density, infrastructure, transit, and conservation.My vision for Northern South Park is to negotiate a deal that will balance the needs of the developer (profitability) with the needs of the community (affordability). While these two objectives generally work against each other, there is one factor that increases both profitability and affordability- density. I would like to see a mixed density model for Northern South Park that replicates the successes located just north of High School Road. Developments to the north include a full array of private, public, and community-funded housing models, with a wide range of densities and affordability thresholds. As Commissioner, I will work diligently with landowners to develop an appropriate and comprehensive neighborhood plan for this subarea, with points of negotiation including neighborhood design, conservation easements, density bonuses, park and ride lots and transit stops, a southern connector road, and other infrastructure needs. It is imperative that these issues are largely resolved before any rezone is granted.
  • Natalia D. Macker: I support pursuing a holistic neighborhood plan for Northern South Park. We have the chance to do our very best for affordable housing, for transit and transportation, for connectivity, for wastewater, for wildlife, and to complete the vision with wraparound community services like child care. I believe diverse neighborhoods are the strongest and that a neighborhood plan should explore all possibilities of housing types, including rentals. Including opportunities for partnerships with organizations and businesses can be part of this, but ultimately we need deed restrictions that maintain the affordability component. We have the data available – and can update as needed – to address price points but we know that we need diverse product to meet the full spectrum of income levels.

COVID-19 has created a huge threat to our community’s health, and this threat is sharpest to lower-income and working-class community members. Local human service agencies have already provided rent assistance to hundreds of families who have never asked for help before and are struggling to keep up with the need. The disadvantaged in our community are struggling, choosing between paying rent and buying food and putting themselves and their family members at risk providing front line services. Especially as federal benefits decrease, many community members and families will face eviction and increased health risks. Other communities have enacted tenant protections like eviction moratoriums and even rent cancellation. How would you protect our community members?

  • Christian Beckwith: The impacts of COVID-19 will be felt disproportionately by the most vulnerable in our community. Already, community based organizations are providing historic levels of rent assistance. I have great appreciation for the burden this is placing on our working-class residents. I also have great appreciation for the local homeowners for whom supplemental rent is key to paying their mortgage. Any moratorium on evictions should be coupled with funding mechanisms that make up for the lost revenue. If we simply shift the economic burden without compensatory mechanisms, the resulting disruption will force small homeowners who rely on rent to either sell their homes or foreclose.
  • Greg Epstein: This is a time for our community to come together and support the most in need. The last thing Jackson needs is a critical workforce that is homeless. The only real power the county has in this situation is through our budget. If necessary I would look to amend the county budget to get more funding to the necessary organizations that are providing the relief. Since the county has no statutory power I would also lean on our state legislation to do the right thing. Additionally, I would support the Town’s efforts toward a temporary ordinance for protections against eviction.
  • Wes Gardner: The County is currently working with One22 and the Housing Department to advise working families on how to manage these difficult circumstances. These services are valuable, and I will continue to support them. I will do everything within my power to ensure that adequate funding exists to continue to provide important safety nets for the most vulnerable among our working families. When it comes to enacting tenant protections like eviction moratoriums and rent cancellation, County Commissioners are limited in their authority by state statute. Given these limitations, I pledge to work with our local partners to ensure that the folks who most need assistance continue to have a funding stream adequate to their needs. The bigger issue here goes beyond eviction moratoriums and rent abatement. Every year we lose more and more of the market-based affordable options that provide housing for our most vulnerable populations. I support the development of a plan for public and community-funded housing for these displaced workers. We must work to move those who are most vulnerable toward housing security. Utilizing zoning tools to create density would go a long way to ensuring maximum return in the number of beds gained per public or community dollar spent.
  • Natalia D. Macker: Unfortunately, the County is limited in its jurisdictional authority to enact tenant protections, although I do support them and will work in whatever way I can to continue to support getting funds to renters via WCDA and any other programs/mechanisms. I have and will continue to support funding for human services agencies that provide services including rent protection but also the other basic services serving high-risk communities. On a larger level, I will continue to fight for benefits like paid family leave, expanded child care support, pregnant worker accommodations, mental health care, and suicide prevention. I will also continue to fund and leverage all my resources for the public health infrastructure and response we need to keep our community on track. I am interested in pursuing equity audits for our policymaking and our internal operations. We cannot allow the voices and experiences of entire segments of our community – like the Latinx community – to be absent from policymaking moving forward.

In recent budgeting processes even very modest amounts requested by the Housing Department and the community were not funded. We continue to lose ground on achieving our housing goals established in the Comprehensive Plan. Without additional and secure funding we will continue on this trend, diminishing the level of service to our visitors, decreasing the quality of life for locals, increasing social service costs, and decreasing education, health and financial outcomes of many of your constituents. How would you propose we obtain a permanent and dedicated/restricted source of revenue to provide safe, secure and affordable places to live for our local workers?

  • Christian Beckwith: I believe we need to prioritize homes for locals that are permanently affordable. To do this, we should bring back tools that have been eliminated over the past decade, include affordable housing zones, amending the current zoning to accommodate duplexes, triplexes, and quadplexes and reinstating fourth stories for workforce housing. We should look at funding from the 7th penny, the lodging tax and congesting charging for visitors that builds in the impact of visits on our infrastructure in the form of a digitally delivered “tax” for driving into the heart of Jackson.
  • Greg Epstein: I personally think there is a way forward that isn’t totally dependent on public money. We need to be willing to incentivize with zoning and partner with the private sector and local businesses if we expect to make a dent in our housing deficit. We also need to lower the commercial mitigation rates and stop using them as a no growth tool. People want to exercise their development rights and as elected offices we need to pass policy that helps create a pathway to smart growth where the community gets some affordable housing and a developer’s project pencils. There is a sweet spot, too high of rates stifles potential commercial development/ housing and to low of rates diminish the community‘s return on investment, by giving away too much to the developer. As I mentioned above our current commercial mitigation rates are too high and need to be cut by about 40-50%.
    Otherwise funding is in the hands of the voters with a 7th penny of sales tax or raising the lodging tax to the maximum 4%. Although I supported putting the 7th penny on the ballot I prefer the lodging tax because it is paid for completely by our visitors. If either of these taxes are levied I still don’t see this money solving our housing crisis without involving the expertise and increased capacity of the private sector.
  • Wes Gardner: We are fortunate to live in a Community that values the creation of affordable, workforce housing and has robust organizations dedicated to deploying such housing. Unfortunately, without a dedicated revenue source, these organizations operate well below capacity. I will do whatever is in my power to properly fund these community partners so that they can get affordable workforce housing in the ground.I will lobby in Cheyenne for the ability for counties to opt into a real estate transfer tax. My suggestion would be a graduated tax scale starting as low as .1% for properties under $1M and reaching as high as 3% for properties valued over $5M. This transfer tax will act as the critical secure funding source dedicated to creating the affordable housing that our workforce so desperately needs.I will be creative in my pursuit to negotiate real estate purchases, especially in exchange for density bonuses. The cost of dirt in our valley represents a significant barrier to developing housing, and we should remain flexible and nimble in our negotiations with private developers, always keeping an eye out for any opportunity to attain land.I am deeply committed to reaching the potential of our strong community partners at Habitat for Humanity and the Housing Trust while also supporting the Teton County Housing Department. Further, I am hopeful that we can work with private developers to deploy additional affordable workforce housing inventory, but we must be careful to ensure community benefits when negotiating with private developers.
  • Natalia D. Macker: Funding is one piece of the puzzle, and a sign of forward progress that we were able to secure SPET funding in the last election. Securing additional sales tax – including lodging tax – revenue is another tool as is the real estate transfer tax. I support pursuing those options, including placing the 7th penny on the ballot and working with our legislators. Partnerships with local organizations and at the state level will be critical in accessing new funding streams beyond those in our direct control. Direct funding that can be paired with housing mitigation fees must also be leveraged with key partnerships and ongoing zoning changes. As indicated with regards to Northern South Park, I am willing to look at new zoning in the County that creates incentives for affordable housing in complete neighborhoods.