JACKSON — Although housing wasn’t on its agenda, a legislative committee decided last minute to advance a bill that could gut Teton County’s affordable housing program.

The unexpected vote followed a Monday lunch with the advocacy group Jackson Hole Working.

While Jackson Hole Working dubbed the event a “public lunch and learn,” it was not included on the agenda for the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Interim Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee.

A handful of local elected officials found out about the lunch only after awkwardly stumbling into the gathering when they showed up early for the committee’s afternoon proceedings. Local officials blindsided by the lunch included state Sen. Mike Gierau, D-Teton.

“It’s not fair because it wasn’t adequately noticed,” Gierau said. “There could have been 200 people here to speak in opposition to some of the views that were expressed by the advocacy group, but they didn’t know about the lunch. No one did except the people that set it up.”

On Tuesday, as the committee was wrapping up, Rep. Shelly Duncan, R-Goshen, cited “testimony at lunchtime” as her reason for bringing up a bill — also not on the agenda — to prohibit towns and counties from requiring developers to build or pay for housing. Duncan told committee members that solving housing issues should be left to the private sector with “less regulation and robust incentives-based programs.”

“That’s my theory,” she said, “and from what we heard from the testimony we had yesterday.”

During last winter’s legislative session, Duncan sponsored House Bill 277. The bill targeted rules the town of Jackson and Teton County updated in the summer of 2018 to increase how much developers — particularly commercial developers — must pay toward affordable housing when building a project.

Duncan’s bill was one of several last session that Teton County officials said aimed to preempt local control and overrule Teton County policies. Duncan’s housing bill passed the corporations committee but failed to make it onto the House floor. Those tensions between state and Teton County elected officials led the corporations committee to commit to hosting a meeting in Jackson, landing more than a dozen legislators in Teton County Library’s Ordway Auditorium on Monday and Tuesday.

Rep. Tyler Lindholm, R-Crook/Weston, co-chairman of the committee, said that while affordable housing didn’t make it onto the agenda, people were welcome to comment on anything during a general public comment period at the end of the meeting Tuesday.

So state Rep. Andy Schwartz, D-Teton, was surprised when he showed up early for the committee meeting and walked in on legislators having a lunch discussion on housing rules with Jackson Hole Working.

“There was people sitting at the table where you testify, and virtually the entire committee sitting in their chairs,” Schwartz said. “It sure wasn’t on the agenda.”

“I was not pleased, because I felt like they had scheduled a meeting that wasn’t noticed, wasn’t recorded,” Schwartz said. “It was outside the scope of the meeting notice.”

According to its website, Jackson Hole Working is “a community-driven movement that values the vibrant heart of downtown, a workforce housing market driven by the private sector, the protection of private property rights and the preservation of open spaces and wildlife corridors.”

The group originated in 2016 as the pro-development “Think About It, Jackson Hole” to oppose a rezoning for the downtown district and push for more commercial development. The group later rebranded as “Jackson Hole Working” with the goal of representing working families.

Current board members are Ted Staryk, owner of Snake River Brewing; Kevin Kavanagh, general manager of the Clear Creek Group; Kelly Lockhart, partner in Lockhart Cattle Company; John Carney, of Carney, Logan, Burke Architects; Anna Cole, communications manager at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort; John Stennis, of GYDE Architects; Sadek Darwiche, manager of Hotel Jackson; Tyler Davis, of Wyoming Property Management; Jenn Ford, of Frederick Mountain Group; and Joe Rice, owner of Blue Collar Restaurant Group.

Most recently the group has advocated for an inventory of child care providers and more equitable sources of START funding. The group and its board members also strongly opposed the drastic increases to mitigation requirements in 2018 that upped commercial developers’ affordable housing obligations, saying the rules would place a moratorium on business growth and harm “mom and pops.”

 

By Allie Gross

Jackson Hole News&Guide Via Wyoming News Exchange