A series of housing-related advertisements that’s been running in the Jackson Hole News&Guide and Jackson Hole Daily this summer came up as a topic of discussion Wednesday at an informal “Chat With Town Council Members” event.
Some of the full-page ads, which state that they’re paid for by Eyes on Teton County, LLC, have focused on a planned affordable housing project for low-income residents located at 400 West Snow King Avenue called the Flat Creek Apartments. The town-owned parcel is the current site of a green space and the Teton County Fair’s Exhibit Hall–an aging metal building that will be torn down after this year’s fair to make way for the new housing. Activities that used to happen there will now be moved across the street to a bigger, more modern community center.
“Basically, this whole contrived issue is what’s gonna happen right here, where we’re gonna replace an unused lawn and a falling-apart building with affordable housing,” Council Member Jonathan Schechter said Wednesday while sharing his screen to show a map of the location.
Jackson Mayor Hailey Morton Levinson agreed that the critical ads contain “half-truths or conflating issues.” That’s because some of them conflate the new housing project that will serve low-income residents with pre-existing housing to the west that serves some town and county seasonal workers. One ad also described that housing as being located “at the fairgrounds,” though Schechter said it’s not part of the 12.3 acres across the street that’s leased to the Teton County Fair Board by the town, and which is a separate parcel from the site of the new housing project.
Rebecca Bextel is a local real estate agent and representative of Eyes on Teton County. She said the LLC “stand[s] 100% by every claim we’ve made.” Asked specifically about the existing town and county housing, she said it was funded by a Specific Purpose Excise Tax (SPET) initiative in 2017 to house “town and county employees–not interns or seasonal employees.” Bextel also disputed the town’s insistence that the parcel of land in question at 400 West Snow King Avenue isn’t part of the fairgrounds because it’s not part of the leased area. As evidence, she pointed to the county’s GIS maps, which describe the parcel as “fair grounds, includes public works department.”
The two parcels are separate, according to the GIS, though they share the same zoning of public/semi-public.
“This is taking one acre of the fairgrounds. I don’t care how Jonathan Schechter described it,” Bextel told KHOL Thursday. “Call it public works–whatever you want to call it–they are taking one acre of the fairgrounds.”
Bextel told the News&Guide the recent ads have helped build support for both Eyes on Teton County and Save the Jackson Hole Rodeo, LLC. She is also involved in a documentary film project about the effort to save the current location of the rodeo and fairgrounds. Town officials have repeatedly said there’s no current plan underway to move them, but Bextel disputes that by pointing to a recent zoning map amendment request for the Flat Creek Apartments submitted by the town’s Planning and Building Department that refers to an eventual neighborhood planning process to “identify the appropriate future location of the Teton County Fair and the best location for additional housing opportunities.”
“I believe that this land grab for the one acre for the 48-unit housing complex, I believe that that’s just step one in what’s gonna be a really long process of taking the entire fairgrounds,” Bextel said in a public comment made on behalf of Save the Rodeo Grounds at a town council meeting on July 18. “I think it’s an unwise decision to start chopping away at something before you have any place to put it.”
Schechter said Wednesday that the question of whether or not to move the fairgrounds is “a complete non-issue” at present because the town recently extended its lease with the fair board.
“It’s completely bogus… because this lease we recently extended to the year 2030,” he said. “So, nobody who’s in office right now is going to be voting on this anytime soon. Nobody who’s running for office now is going to be voting on this anytime soon.”
Further, the fair board itself has requested funding to relocate to a larger parcel of land–a fact that was pointed out by coordinator of the affordable housing advocacy group Shelter JH Clare Stumpf at the same public meeting where Bextel spoke. Shelter JH is one of the leading advocates for eventually moving the rodeo and fairgrounds and freeing up the land to build high-density affordable housing “close to jobs and public services.”
“It’s clear that the fair board, who represents the fair and the fairgrounds itself, of course, and the programs that want to use the fairgrounds want this new location,” Stumpf said. “The fairgrounds manager has actually included monies for purchasing large acreage for the new fairgrounds as a part of capital improvement projects for the last four years, so this is not a new idea. This is also why they applied for the SPET ballot this year. People who use the fairgrounds and plan the fair want a new location.”
However, Bextel said she believes a new, larger location for the fairgrounds and rodeo isn’t likely to materialize.
“We’re not saying some people don’t want to move it… [but] one day, they’ll be thanking us for saving what little space we have,” she said. “We’ve talked to most landowners who have that kind of land. We’ve met all those people, and they’re not going to donate it. There’s nowhere else to go.”
The town council unanimously approved a suite of documents that moved the Flat Creek Apartments project forward last week. Meanwhile, the fair board’s application for SPET funding did not make the cut to get onto the ballot this fall.
Eyes on Teton County, LLC has placed at least four ads in the News&Guide over the past couple of months, according to the newspaper’s own reporting. In a statement, Jackson Hole News&Guide Editor in Chief Johanna Love said the News&Guide and Jackson Hole Daily publications sell advertising to fund their operations.
“Each publication contains a note: ‘We do not endorse, encourage or promote the purchase or sale of any product, service, company or individual that advertises in [the] newspaper,’” Love said. “Advertising in the Jackson Hole News&Guide is in no way connected to the newsroom that creates journalism for the paper. Our journalists act independently and adhere to the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics.”