Power of Place
By Daryl Hunter (May 2006)
Spring Gulch Barn, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Spring Gulch Barn
The power of place, well we sure have that! The question is what are we going to do with it? We inarguably live in one of the most beautiful places in the world, Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, our rivers, mountains, wilderness areas and our plethora of wildlife has presented many paradoxical, insoluble dilemmas, and the answers are tough and consequential ones. Everyone that visits here wants to move here, those raised here would like to stay, everyone wants Jackson Hole to stay the same, but nothing ever does nor can.

The residents of Wilson are the latest batch of Teton County residents to complain about the condensation of their community. The developers of Wilson's affordable housing project hopes to obtain a zoning variance to increase density to make wiser economical use of land that is in such short supply in Teton County.

On one level I empathize with the plight of a neighborhood that might change, on another level I question where are the next generation of Wilson's blue-collar residents going to live? Teton County's wealthy are unconcerned about such things as they are not affected, but it confounds me that the working folks are just as willing to shut the door upon their own. It all seems like such a good idea to improve or preserve what you have however by blindly doing so we are embracing the law of unintended consequences.

97 percent of Teton County is federal land that is preserved for perpetuity, the remaining 3 percent is available for human habitation but much of that has been set aside for green space by the Nature Conservancy, the Jackson Hole Land Trust etc. High desirability and short supply has accelerated the law of supply and demand and is fueling a real estate inflationary spiral that has no end in site. Everyone's property value goes up and everyone is happy.

Children of multi-generation natives of Jackson Hole are moving elsewhere to find opportunity and where they can afford to buy a home. It puzzles me why community planners of pretty places such as Jackson exclude their native population in their comprehensive plans favoring wealthy immigrants instead. Isn't it fundamentally wrong that a real land shortage is exasperated by faulty zoning that compels third and fourth generation blue collar Jacksonites to move to Driggs, Idaho Falls, Riverton or Omaha, if they wish to buy a home or just get ahead in life? A community needs building densities that can mitigate land shortages that will accommodate affordable housing for Teton County kids when it comes time to kick them out of the nest, or welcome them back from college.

Spring Gulch Barn, black and white
Spring Gulch Barn

Many of Teton County's modest wage earners who wisely bought early share the "I've got mine - back off" attitude, they may want to contemplate as they participate at the ballot box and in public forums the long-term effect of density limits, building heights, and over preservation. The consequential effect of this complicity in the furtherance of artificial land shortages will create the dynamic that closes the door of local existence for their own children. Un-comprehensive planning devoid of the mechanics that perpetuate family and community is in fact, the antithesis of community. Teton County's current resident's lack of empathy or comprehensive foresight for the continuity of community roots is short sighted.

I have lived and worked around Jackson Hole for 30 years and I have seen many of Jackson's own born an bred have to leave to make room for the well heeled that financially displaced them. It's nice to see your property escalate in value but if you don't plan on selling someday you are just building yourself a bigger property tax bill that you may not be able to afford after you retire, many will have to sell out and move to Mud Lake where they will be able to afford the property tax bill.

Down zoning and embracing growth at the expense or our perception of value of place is counter intuitive as it is a part of our human nature to improve what we possess. It is also part of our nature to pave the path for the success for our progeny's future. This dichotomy of purpose presents a conundrum that is truly hard to balance on our values scale.

Snake River sunrise, Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Wilson
The Snake River and the Grand Tetons from the Wilson bike bridge
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