City Hall wins housing vote
July 11, 2008
City Hall on Wednesday won a crucial vote allowing the local government to develop a work force housing project just off S.R. 224, part of Park City’s efforts to provide options for rank-and-file employees.
The next day, however, three Park City women who said they are unhappy with the project indicated they are considering a rarely used procedural move to force the Park City Council to review a lower panel’s approval of the housing, dubbed the Snow Creek Cottages.
The city’s Planning Commission unanimously OK’d the project on Wednesday, after listening to four people testify, mostly in opposition, in a short hearing. Previous hearings drew larger audiences of critics. They have said it is better that the land, which is at the southern end of the S.R. 224 entryway, be preserved as open space.
If the Planning Commission approval stands, City Hall would be allowed to build 13 houses at 2060 Park Ave., a swath of city-controlled land directly east of the police station on Park Avenue. Planning Commissioners did not spend significant time on the project on Wednesday, but the panel in past meetings had quizzed City Hall’s consultants about issues such as nearby waterways and the house designs.
Opponents have until July 19 to appeal the Planning Commission to the City Council. Appeals to the City Council rarely occur, and the women who spoke to the City Council on Thursday did not say with certainty whether they would do so. They had not filed an appeal by midmorning Friday.
People who live in nearby condominiums have been especially displeased with the plans. The three women who spoke to the City Council on Thursday, however, do not live nearby. In an interview afterward, Myra Strauchen, who lives in Thaynes Canyon, said the land should not be developed.
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"Park City is constantly requesting open space in town for its citizens," she said, arguing wildlife often is on the property.
Another of the women, Dolly Makoff, who also lives in Thaynes Canyon, said work force housing is a "misuse of the property." She agreed the land should be set aside from development.
An appeal to the City Council would likely become a closely watched process, with some neighbors hoping the elected officials overrule the Planning Commission but housing advocates encouraging them to keep the approval intact.
It would also be a test of the City Council’s longstanding commitment to work force housing. City Hall officials, with the support of the City Council, submitted the application for the housing. Siding with the neighbors would reverse the City Council’s earlier position to pursue the worker housing.
Mayor Dana Williams and City Councilors did not make extensive comments after the women spoke. City Councilor Candy Erickson said City Hall does not own land elsewhere for work force housing. Joe Kernan, another City Councilor, said the project is meant for people with moderate incomes.
The project is slated for eight acres, with most of the land being kept as open space under the blueprints. Officials have said the houses would measure between 1,500 and 1,800 square feet each and generally be three bedrooms. They would have garages.
Phyllis Robinson, who directs City Hall’s housing program, has said the houses would be the first-ever houses built as work force housing. Other work force units in the city are condominiums. She has said the houses would appeal to people who want a larger place but want to continue to live in a work force unit.
Robinson in March said the project was estimated to cost between $5 million and $6 million to build, but a current figure was not immediately available. Sale prices are not set, and income eligibility has not yet been figured. If the units had been available last spring, someone earning about $55,000 or less would have qualified as a purchaser.
Work force housing, which is frequently called affordable housing, has long challenged Park City officials. City Hall supports a theory that Park City will be better off if more workers can afford to purchase or rent inside the city, the most expensive housing market in Utah. The supporters say having workers living locally will cut traffic on the entryways and bring diversity to Park City.
Critics, though, usually worry about work force projects attracting more traffic to neighborhood streets, devalued housing prices and building on what they see as open space.