Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Jackson mayor extols density

Barron cites planning and zoning as key to stopping sprawl

Express Staff Writer

Mark Barron, Jackson Mayor

A Tale of Two Cities
First in a series of two


The triumph of a town is achieved by a process that's dismissed by some, misapplied by others and misunderstood by still more.

Sneak a peek inside the mind of Jackson Mayor Mark Barron and the planning and zoning process becomes the tool that addresses problems, forestalls others and solves still more for the western Wyoming resort town.

Seated last month in his downtown office, Barron slid his pencil over a zoning map of the city and pointed to the central business district.

"A two- to three-block radius around the town square is visitor retail," Barron said. "Around that you have a general business district which is more available for higher-density zoning. Around that, the greater business area is primed for an opportunity to create more mixed-use development with live-work applications."

Like Jackson and surrounding Teton County, Ketchum and Blaine County are dealing with challenges unique to mountain resort towns of the West, such as growth and soaring land values. Those issues bring about challenges of their own, like lack of affordable housing, transportation needs and stresses on the business community.

As the gateway community to Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks and three major ski resorts, Jackson attracts millions of visitors a year. It also is in an epicenter of development for luxury summer recreation resorts and burgeoning residential communities that is spilling south and east down the Snake River corridor and west over Teton Pass into Idaho's Teton County.

"Many resort communities are struggling with the same issues: zoning perceptions, workforce housing, transportation—and they're all related," Barron said.

"There's a strong relationship between transportation—automobiles, mass transit—streets, sidewalks," he added. "But the silent partner in all of this is your planning and zoning. It's one of the toughest issues to discuss because are you managing growth or are you causing growth?"

Ketchum has contracted with economic development consultant Tom Hudson to help formulate a downtown master plan to revitalize the city's core. Increasing density downtown is one option under consideration.

For their part, Barron and the Jackson Town Council in 2003 unanimously passed a series of ordinances that sought to increase density in the core to alleviate impacts in surrounding areas, while at the same time enhancing the center.

"We passed exactly what you're trying to do with Tom Hudson's work," Barron said.

The plan called for sweeping new zoning changes downtown, design guidelines, and more housing in the core, Barron said.

It also proposed a downtown redevelopment district that, according to its vision statement, would "create a vibrant urban village to improve the quality of life and physical environment for both residents and visitors alike."

The changes were too much, too soon for some residents, however.

"We suffered a referendum," Barron said. "(The ordinances) were defeated for many different reasons, including the perception of growth. I thought we were delivering what the community was asking for. Perhaps I wasn't patient enough in my timeline so people could understand we're not trying to create growth, we're trying to manage growth."

Opportunities for growth in other areas of Jackson, though, are limited. Approximately 97 percent of the 2,697,000 acres in Teton County are federally owned or state managed, according to the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce. Only 3 percent of the land in the Jackson area is privately owned.

Barron continues to be a proponent of increasing density in a city's core in order to halt "creepage," or sprawl.

"Planning and zoning is at the core of all this," Barron said. "There are consequences to the actions we take. I would prefer to enable more density in the general business district than to have zoning to enable the town to expand in size."

In 1994, the city of Jackson went the other way, opting to decrease floor-area ratios—the ratio between building and lot size—from 3.0 to .25.

"(They) restricted all of it to little houses," Barron said. "As businesses grow, they need space to grow in. You're pushing out the little hardware store, the grocery store (from downtown). Growth will happen. It will find somewhere else to go."

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