The Jackson/Teton County Comprehensive Plan’s vision is to “Preserve and protect the area’s ecosystem in order to ensure a healthy environment, community and economy for current and future generations.” What does “preserve and protect the area’s ecosystem” mean to you, and what are three specific actions you think our community should take in the next four years to work toward this vision?
Nikki Gill: To me preserving and protecting our area’s ecosystem in order to ensure a healthy environment, community and economy for current and future generation means finding a balance between open space preservation, private property rights, and the construction of affordable housing. I believe that the affordable housing that allows our working families, middle class, and small businesses to remain in Jackson is just as valuable as our wildlife and open space. Under the new Comprehensive Plan however, most of the county has been zoned one house per 35 acres, which doesn’t do much to truly conserve land , protect wildlife corridors, or provide affordable housing. I will work to create more effective zoning that enables us to build affordable housing , and protect both wildlife and open space.
I will also work to incentivize land conservation easements that are fair to large landowners and cattle ranchers . Many large landowners and cattle ranchers in Teton County would prefer to take less money for their land in exchange for a conservation easement rather than see their land subdivided into 35 acre parcels. Cattle ranchers more than anyone in Jackson don’t want to see their land developed, but they are also entitle to a fair return on land they have done such a great job of protecting for so many generations.
What role do you think the Town and County can and should play in regards to protecting Jackson Hole’s wildlife?
Nikki Gill: We’re so fortunate that 97% of our valley is public land and by default protects the vast majority of our wildlife. Of the 3% of private lands roughly 1% is owned by cattle ranchers, who in my mind are some of the greatest stewards of land and wildlife advocates in Teton County. I believe the role of the Town and County should be to do their best to help these ranchers thrive in our community so they can continue to protect wildlife, open space, our western heritage.
An average of 114 deer, 35 elk, and 15 moose are struck and killed by motorists on Teton County roads every year. The County is currently overseeing development of a Wildlife Crossings Master Plan. Once that plan is adopted, what are the next steps you’d take to keep people and wildlife safe on our roads?
Nikki Gill: Unfortunately there isn’t one solution that will solve the problem of wildlife deaths by vehicles but I do think we’ve already begun to make some positive changes by reducing speed limits at night on many of the roads in Teton County. Once the Wildlife Crossing Master Plan is adopted I would partner with groups such as the Conservation Alliance to fund and construct aesthetically pleasing and effective wildlife crossings.
What is your vision for the future of our Teton County federal lands, and what is your perspective on the ongoing region-wide effort to transfer control of our federal public lands to the states?
Nikki Gill: I believe that the federal government is best suited to manage the public lands of our state. I would, however, support more cooperation between the federal government and local governments regarding decision making on public land issues. Communities like ours, surrounded by vast amounts of public land, will always be the most affected by land use policy and therefore deserve to have their voices heard.
Our community established a goal through the Comprehensive Plan of housing at least 65% of our workforce locally. The recent Housing Action Plan identified a need of 800 units over 10 years just to “catch up” with the existing workforce housing deficit, and 2000 more to “keep up” with employment growth. How many units of workforce housing do you think our community should build over the next 10 years, and what strategies and tools in the Housing Action Plan would you prioritize to get these units built?
Nikki Gill: It seems to me that identifying this magic “workforce housing,” number is getting in the way of us making actual progress on building affordable housing. Instead I think we need to focus on getting shovel ready projects approved and completed in both the Town and County. I know of a handful of landowners who are ready and willing to build affordable housing but they’ve been handcuffed by zoning regulations, the lack of incentives, and the long approval process. I’m not in favor of our local government getting in the development business and I strongly believe the private sector could start building affordable housing immediately if provided with density bonuses, a faster approval process, and a reduction in development fees.
Our community has also established the goal of residents and visitors being able to safely, efficiently, and economically move within our community and throughout the region on foot, bike, and transit. What specific projects, programs, and policies from the Integrated Transportation Plan should we prioritize over the next four years to continue on our journey toward this goal?
Nikki Gill: Not only is traffic an important issue when discussing transportation, but safety is as well. Right now we have an arterial road system that lacks redundancy – when we don’t have secondary routes it creates major safety issues.
In order to reduce traffic in and around Jackson it’s crucial that we improve upon our public transportation system by adding new routes that service Hoback, South Park Loop Road, and other neighborhoods in the County, while also increasing the frequency of stops on each route. In addition I think it’s crucial that we add more START bus trips to and from the Star Valley/Alpine and Victor/Driggs areas. There are currently only three trips a day, Monday through Friday, to Star Valley and Teton Valley which only accommodates people working a traditional 9-5 workday. A huge portion of the Jackson workforce doesn’t hold those hours which means riding the START bus isn’t an option for many commuters.
The Town Council and County Commission recently voted unanimously to limit additional new nonresidential development potential to “+/- 0 square feet.” How do you see this decision impacting the next four years of land use planning decisions?
Nikki Gill: I’m not opposed to allowing mixed used developments in the Town and County that incorporate both commercial and employee housing. I don’t believe commercial development is at fault for our current housing crisis, rather I think the greatest culprit is our zoning that limits higher density residential developments. Local businesses should not be punished for a problem that was created by zoning regulations adopted in the ’94 Comp Plan.
Snow King Mountain Resort is proposing a significant expansion on US Forest Service, Town and private lands within Teton County. What role do you think the Town and County should play to ensure this proposed expansion aligns with our Comprehensive Plan?
Nikki Gill: As someone who learned how to ski on Snow King and was practically raised in the Snow King Sports and Events Center during my years of competitive figure skating and playing hockey, I support improvements to Snow King. Since the opening of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, and throughout my whole life, Snow King Mountain Resort has struggled to survive. I’m supportive of any effort to keep our “Town Hill” in operation that aligns with the overall character of our community. Like many in Jackson I don’t want to see Snow King turn into an amusement park, but I also don’t want to see this incredible community resource go to waste. I believe there is way to make improvements and additions to the Snow King Mountain Resort that respects the history of the “Town Hill,” and also blends with the character of Jackson.
Large parts of the community, such as Latinos and residents under 40, are significantly underrepresented in civic affairs and decision-making. What is your vision for involving the Latino community and younger people in decision-making? What are concrete steps that Town and County staff can take to make public processes like land-use planning more inclusive?
Nikki Gill: One of the main reasons I’m running is because of that fact that my generation is significantly underrepresented in local government. At 28 years old I’m beginning to see many of my peers leave because they can’t buy a home or afford to raise a family in Jackson. My generation along with Latinos are some of the most affected by the current housing crisis and the decisions regarding affordable housing, zoning, and much more that are being made currently by our local government will continue to have the greatest impact on us for years to come. I hope that by giving my generation a voice within local government and our community, I can help motivate more of my peers as wells as the Latino community to become more involved.
Combined, the Latino community and residents under 40 comprise a significant portion of the population in Teton County and therefore should be proportionally represented on local boards and in local government. If elected I will work to recruit and appoint more individuals from the Latino community and the younger generation to local boards such as the Planning Commission.
The Comprehensive Plan calls for the Town and County to “Evaluate and amend wildlife protection standards for development density, intensity, location, clustering, permeability and wildlife-human conflict” (1.1.S.4) and to “Evaluate and update natural resource protection standards for waterbodies, wetlands and riparian areas” (1.2.S.1). Town and County planning staff are preparing a Natural Resource Regulations update for review and adoption. What issues do you see with our current wildlife and resource protection regulations and what are your suggested solutions? What is your plan for engaging all the key stakeholders, including those who represent the wildlife and resources that can’t speak for themselves?
Nikki Gill: I strongly believe that wildlife and resource protections should be a priority and I think this can be done through better zoning, increased density bonuses, and clustering. Our new LDRs reduced the amount of density that can be transferred from one property to another, thus dis-incentivizing clustering and instead incentivizing 35 acre developments. I think many of our current regulations impose unnecessary restrictions on the large landowners and cattle ranchers that have successfully resisted developing their land for generations. It seems their reward for not developing their property, in spite of a large financial gain, is to have their property rights stripped away. I would like for the Town and County to better engage with the large landowners and ranchers who are not only some of the most impacted by these new regulations, but are also some of the greatest protectors and advocates of wildlife in Teton County.