A state plan to generate revenue by developing 18 parcels of school- and state-trust land covering 3,976 acres in Teton County has drawn only three development proposals but many conservation plans.
The Office of State Lands and Investments received 30 letters of interest specific to 13 parcels, according to a matrix posted on its website. Five parcels, including three 640-acre sections, received no specific proposals other than ones suggesting they be considered for conservation and possible sale to the federal government.
One development plan from John Resor, president of the company that built the Shooting Star Subdivision near Teton Village, called for an exclusive subdivision on 640 acres within two miles of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.
Another plan offered $8 million to $10 million, depending on access, for development of a single-family home on 28.6 acres south of Wilson near the Snake River. A third called for development of a luxury camping site on 640 rural acres.
Conservation plans, including the proposed purchase of 640 acres in Grand Teton National Park near Kelly, could generate revenue, too, without conventional development. Similar conservation sales of 760 acres in the park have generated $63 million for Wyoming from “lands that had not historically produced significant revenue,” Grand Teton Acting Superintendent Gopaul Noojibail wrote the state.
State lawmakers earlier this year called for “commercial, retail, recreational, agricultural and residential development” proposals that would “maximize the value of the parcel[s] to the greatest extent possible.”
The hope was that development on expensive Teton County property, where single-family homes sold for an average of $3.7 million in the first nine months of 2020, could help boost state revenues, especially those for schools.
The proposals show the state’s Teton County holdings won’t offer a panacea to revenue ills, several lawmakers said.
“Trying to solve a billion-dollar problem by looking to a place where a bunch of billionaires hang out might seem an answer,” Sen. Mike Gierau (D-Jackson) said. In fact, “it’s the exact opposite.”
Teton County can be a tough place to build, Rep. Andy Schwartz (D-Teton County) said.
“Just wanting to do a development isn’t as simple as it might seem,” he said. “I think we can see that in the applications.”
Another exclusive subdivision
The state received significant proposals for only three of the six complete 640-acre school trust sections it offered. The largest plan involving 640 acres on the road to Teton Village would see the state retain ownership of the acreage, according to the Resor proposal.
Construction of the Jensen Canyon subdivision would generate “significant ongoing annual lease payments,” the proposal reads. The school section is “ideal for a high-end residential development,” the proposal states.
A to-be-formed company would use the connections and experience of Resor’s development team. The group’s “understanding [of] and having access to a high net worth buyer pool can significantly increase value and mitigate market and operating risk,” the plan states.
The proposal does not specify a certain number of units or other details. Four other proposals for the property respectively call for continued grazing, a 40-acre scenic conservation easement and two landscape-business yards.
The conservation plan for the Kelly school section in Grand Teton National Park is timely, wrote Sharon Mader, Grand Teton program manager with the National Parks Conservation Association. Her group would provide a roadmap to preserve the parcel, transfer it to Grand Teton and generate significant money for the state.
“There has never been a better opportunity,” Mader wrote. President Donald Trump this summer signed a bill authorizing billions to be spent on national parks while also making flush the “primary source of funds for NPS land acquisition,” her letter states.
The 640-acre Kelly parcel is located at a bottleneck of migration routes where development “would irreparably harm wildlife and mar the scenic vista overlooking the park,” her letter reads. Wyoming got the school sections at statehood and they are dedicated largely to support schools and several other state institutions.
A proposal for another rural school section — located south of Wilson — calls for a 25-year lease on part of the property for development of a “luxury camping experience.” The “glamping” development would have at least 90 tents that would accommodate guests from May to September.
No takers for three sections
The state received no development proposals for the other three complete school sections. One plan for a section close to Jackson but almost completely inside the Gros Ventre Wilderness on the Bridger-Teton National Forest proposed a voluntary fee box for recreationists. The unnamed proponent said between 10 and 100 people a day might hike, ski or hunt on the mountainous, wildlife-rich property.
One of the two other sections for which there were no proposals is located south of Jackson and is bordered on three sides by national forest lands. The other is east of the National Elk Refuge, is surrounded by national forest, is on the edge of the Gros Ventre Wilderness and is reached via a crude road that is closed and unplowed in the winter.
A coalition of conservation groups also seeks to partner with the state to preserve the “high natural resource value” of key properties, especially those bordering public lands. Conservation purchases and conveyance to federal agencies like the U.S. Forest Service also could bring in “substantial revenue,” the groups said.
The groups — the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Snake River Fund, Wyoming Outdoor Council and Greater Yellowstone Coalition — said their involvement would help avoid “costly externalities [or impacts] from development that would burden state and local taxpayers.”
Two ranches offered continued grazing leases on state property they use. The Jackson Hole Land Trust offered partnership help in continuing those uses, preserving ecological and scenic values and increasing state revenues.
A competing proposal for the 28.6-acre parcel south of Wilson, for which the state received the $8-million to $10-million offer, calls for a conservation lease that would pay $10,000 annually.
The Jackson Hole Land Trust offered to be a conservation partner with proponents on many of the parcels. Such collaborations would bring money to the state while helping preserve valuable scenic, wildlife and ecological values, the organization said.
The high price of land in Teton County, where only an estimated 3% of property is private, attracted the interest of lawmakers seeking to shore up state coffers. Wyoming’s revenue has been in a tailspin with the collapse of fossil fuel markets, prompting Cheyenne solons to even mull developing a revenue-generating casino on the Kelly property in the national park.
Jackson real estate agents David and Devon Viehman of Engel & Volkers highlighted the lure of Teton County’s golden real estate goose in their latest Jackson Hole Report. They tallied overall sales of $1.56 billion in the first nine months of 2020, topping the record for a full year set in 2007.
Those heady numbers didn’t translate into a wave of development proposals, however. Schwartz said requirements to have “some level of local review” may have reined in what could have been unbridled fancies about mega hotels.
State ownership of the parcels raises the spectre that Wyoming-sponsored development could skirt county zoning and development regulations.
Neighbors to new development in Teton County, just like in the rest of the state, will fight changes that affect their livelihoods and lifestyles, Gierau said. In Teton County, instead of a lone cowboy defending his spread, “it’s going to be lawyers, guns and money,” he said.
“I think the state’s going to find out it’s not like the sheriff’s office selling a surplus bicycle on the Town Square,” Gierau said.
Rep. Mike Yin (D-Jackson) agreed Teton County doesn’t hold a silver bullet.
“I think that there are opportunities for the state to work on its budget issues with the help of Teton County,” he said. “I don’t think this is the most effective or best way to do it.”
For Rep. Jim Roscoe (I-Wilson), the focus of lawmakers’ efforts could have been broader. “I don’t think it’s fair they just targeted one county,” he said.
The Office of State lands and Investments will report to legislative committees on the results of the call for proposals, said Jason Crowder, deputy director of the office.