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A weathered sign marks the southern entrance of the Gemstone neighborhood in Driggs. The Teton County Joint Housing Authority plans to approach the Karl M. Johnson Foundation with a proposal to provide more affordable housing in the subdivision.

The Teton County Joint Housing Authority plans to approach the Karl M. Johnson Foundation with a proposal to provide more housing in the Gemstone Subdivision in east Driggs.

Both the housing authority and the Affordable Housing Technical Advisory Group before it have long considered Gemstone Subdivision to be low-hanging fruit in the quest for more affordable housing inventory in Teton Valley.

The city of Driggs first approved the 170-lot, 55-acre subdivision in 1995. The Karl M. Johnson Foundation of Jackson, which owns the land, has been a philanthropic force on both sides of the Tetons, often awarding scholarships and donating to local Boy Scout troops, hospitals and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The foundation donated land for the new Victor Elementary School and operates the mobile home park on East Center Street in Victor and the park north of Johnson Avenue in Driggs.

The Gemstone Subdivision was planned as an affordable housing resource where tenants could lease lots for a low price and build houses. Some of the residents there have since purchased their lots from the foundation, but right now sales and leases on the vacant lots are on hold. The foundation is eligible for property tax exemption because of its nonprofit status, but the organization’s directors don’t have the time to pursue it.

Housing authority secretary Doug Self suggested to the housing authority commissioners during their Aug. 5 meeting that they make a proposal to the foundation: The housing authority could lease lots at a nominal rate from the foundation and place homes on the lots to rent or sell. Households that bring in between 60 and 80 percent of the area median income of $69,000 would be the target audience for Gemstone properties.

The units could be prefabricated models from the Caldwell-based factory IndieDwell or locally constructed through a volunteer or workforce training program like Habitat for Humanity or Community Rebuilds.

“The reason this seems to pencil is that Karl Johnson would give us a smoking deal,” Commissioner Shawn Hill said.

The benefits to the foundation would be manifold, Self said. Reviving Gemstone would achieve the original goal of providing affordable housing, generate revenue for the foundation without adding to its administrative burden, and reduce other costs such as taxes and assessments.

Self told the housing commissioners during their Aug. 5 meeting that he will be meeting with the foundation’s sole staff person in the coming weeks for a neighborhood visit.

“I like this project because they’re stand-alone, detached dwellings, whether they’re rentals or for sale” said housing authority chair Carol Barker. “I ride my bike through through there. There’s so much open land, I think it’s a great opportunity.”

The area will likely see new housing soon; just down the road from Gemstone, Grand Targhee Resort is planning to develop some employee housing. The resort’s project manager has submitted site development and grading permit applications to build 16 single-family units in the Winter Business Park Subdivision west of Gemstone on Johnson Avenue. Those applications will be reviewed at an upcoming Driggs Planning & Zoning Commission meeting.

For more information and to submit a comment on the housing authority’s Gemstone proposal or other projects, visit www.driggsidaho.org/housing.