By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily
The Teton County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved a Wyoming Department of Transportation request for a zoning change that will allow the department to build employee housing on its land in Jackson.
The agency has proposed building 28 residential units on its 14.4-acre site to house highway patrol troopers, snowplow drivers and other staff in the Hog Island area to better serve the community. Currently, more than half of the department’s 36 employees live outside Teton County due to high housing costs and a lack of vacancies, according to department Director Luke Reiner.
WYDOT’s zoning request was initially rejected unanimously by the Teton County’s planning commission in December. Among the concerns voiced by the commission were the fact that the Hog Island neighborhood is currently in the midst of being rezoned. Without knowing what impact those zoning changes might have, commissioners said they were hesitant to make a decision on WYDOT’s request.
In an earlier interview with Cowboy State Daily, Chris Neubecker, director of planning and building services for Teton County, said that the commission also had concerns about traffic and water quality as well as the size and scope of the project.
Speaking to the board on Tuesday morning, Keith Compton, WYDOT district engineer, reiterated the advantage that on-site housing would have in recruiting and retaining employees.
He also noted the housing would address some safety concerns stemming from having so many department employees live outside the county.
Compton pointed specifically to the nine highway troopers for the area, only one of whom lives in Teton County. The rest live in communities such as Afton and Victor, Idaho, despite statewide policy that requires employees to live within 10 miles of their duty station.
Teton is the one county in the state, Compton said, where the department has had to modify those rules to stretch the boundaries to accommodate troopers living beyond that 10-mile limit.
“This creates problems for troopers in terms of after-hours response in Teton County,” he said. “Response times (now are) about an hour-and-a-half on a good day and roughly two hours in bad weather depending upon which troopers are called out.”
Having workers in-county, he added, would improve those response times of troopers and snowplow drivers to arrive at accident scenes quickly to help victims in vehicle accidents and also prevent further crashed by more quickly clearing the roadways from debris and other hazards.