Jackson Town Council Debates Possible Development Moratorium to Combat ‘Super-Gentrification’

Housing advocates argue that Jackson needs to pump the brakes on new building projects for one year in order to find more equitable solutions to the local housing crisis.
The median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Jackson is over $1,500, according to the website Zumper. (Fotos593/Shutterstock)

by | Nov 17, 2021 | Housing

The Jackson Town Council began discussions on a possible emergency development moratorium Monday following widespread advocacy from locals demanding more action to address Jackson’s affordable housing crisis.

The organization Shelter JH outlined the moratorium request in a letter sent to elected officials ahead of a Nov. 15 workshop focused on housing and zoning issues. In it, the group asked for a pause on all new development and building permits for one year—or until the town updates its zoning standards.

“I think it’s a level of response that’s indicative of the extreme housing crisis that we’re facing in our community,” said Christine Walker, policy chair for Shelter JH and a contractor working to help the town and county address its housing needs. “Any new development is just digging us deeper into the hole and really making life difficult and challenging for a large portion of the elected officials’ constituents.”

A list of suggested “bold actions” on housing outlined in a letter sent from Shelter JH to local elected officials. (Screenshot Courtesy of Shelter JH)

The envisioned moratorium would exempt new projects with at least 80% deed-restricted units, generally meaning they’re designated as affordable or local workforce housing. Shelter JH also submitted a list of other recommended “bold actions” they’re encouraging councilors to take, including changing the definition of a short-term rental to fewer than 90 days as opposed to the current 30 days.

However, the Jackson Town Council appeared more divided during two public meetings Monday about whether the suggested actions would be helpful. Some local residents also expressed concerns during the public comment period that a moratorium could unfairly inhibit projects already in the pipeline.

Councilman Jim Rooks said he wasn’t opposed to continuing discussions about the town’s development priorities in the near future but said he’s against a “unilateral” pause as of now.

“I do think we need to move as quickly and as intelligently as possible,” Rooks said. “I just personally don’t think that a moratorium is our best chess move at this point.”

Jackson Mayor Hailey Morton Levinson wasn’t present for Monday’s discussion. Several councilors also stressed that a total of $13 million in combined town and county budget dollars were dedicated to affordable housing projects and programs this year—the most money ever dedicated to the issue. Meanwhile, Councilwoman Jessica Sell Chambers took a strong pro-moratorium stance during the debate, though she didn’t make a motion for any concrete actions.

“We have such a complicated and compounding issue with housing and hotel development and short-term rentals,” Sell Chambers said. “Things are rapidly going downhill in a spiral. This super gentrification, whatever you want to call it, [is so intense] that I do think it would be in our interest—in the community’s interest—to not table this or not put it off to the [council] retreat, but to have an actual conversation about what this looks like.”

Sell Chambers said she hopes a moratorium would continue in the near future, though no agenda has been set yet for town council meetings in the coming weeks. Coordinator for Shelter JH Clare Stumpf applauded the widespread e-mails sent to town electeds, which reportedly numbered in the hundreds, and she said Monday’s meeting was the first step of many in terms of enacting real change.

“The Town Council is considering whether and how to put an emergency moratorium on luxury development—and that’s a win,” she said. “They heard our stories and now we need them to follow through with their commitments to prioritize housing for workers and retirees. This discussion is only the first step to change zoning rules to benefit local workers, and we’re excited for the next discussion on Dec. 6 [during the next regular Jackson Town Council meeting].”

Town staff members were also instructed by the council Monday to look into the gritty details of what a moratorium—with all its exemptions, implications and consequences—may look like.

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