Housing statement issued | ParkRecord.com

Housing statement issued

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

City Hall recently issued a strongly worded statement in favor of affordable housing, outlining in explicit terms its support for economic diversity in the city and saying it does not want Park City to become "hollowed out" by a lack of living options.

The city government has for years seen itself as one of the chief supporters of affordable housing in Park City and the statement is not groundbreaking nor does it provide hints of changes to the government’s housing program.

However, its forceful tone is notable, sharply arguing the case that affordable housing is needed in Park City, and it was published as City Hall continues what it envisions being a more aggressive tact for affordable housing.

The three-paragraph statement is contained in the government’s "City Update ’06-’07," a newsletter distributed throughout Park City that provides information about various City Hall projects and touts the government’s successes. The city printed 10,000 copies of the newsletter and sent 7,500 of them to Park City addresses.

Under the headline "Finding affordable housing: a perennial problem," the government talks about providing housing being "a constant challenge."

"The free market has no problem satisfying the demands of upscale buyers who can afford $2 million condos and $5 million homes," the statement says as it describes the "tricky combination" of arrangements needed to provide affordable housing.

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Mayor Dana Williams, a longtime champion of affordable housing, says that the government stands by the statement, calling it a, "reiteration of the philosophy" of City Hall.

"I think we’re totally supportive of what this says," Williams says, adding, "The working class and middle class is under siege here in terms of its ability to maintain living here."

He sees modern-day Park City as continuing its history of housing blue-collar residents, starting with silver miners who settled in the city during Park City’s mining heyday in the 19th and early 20th centuries and extending to the ski-lift operators of today.

"The working class here has always been very creative in terms of trying to figure out ways to stay here," Williams says.

Affordable-housing supporters, including those at City Hall, generally say that providing housing restricted to those who can qualify through their income is important to ensure that Park City is a spot where people of varying means can afford to live.

That makes Park City a more diverse spot and is good for the community, they argue, saying that, by providing the housing, people like police officers and firefighters can live locally.

But affordable housing has challenged City Hall for years, especially as rising real-estate prices made it difficult for lots of workers in the public sector and those in the service industry to rent in the city or purchase houses or condominiums. Affordable-housing proposals frequently meet resistance from neighbors, who sometimes make arguments such as that the projects will draw lots of traffic and could bring down property values.

There have been several ambitious affordable-housing projects in the city starting in the 1990s, including the Aspen Villas apartments, but the demand outstrips the number of units available.

Myles Rademan, City Hall’s Public Affairs director, wrote the affordable-housing statement and says in an interview that by providing housing, Park City keeps itself a community with different interests.

"Many resorts, if they’re not careful, can turn into a hotel" where people not committed to the community live and visit, he says, adding, "Places that have driven out all the locals tend to get dismal."

Mountainlands Community Housing Trust, a nonprofit dedicated to assisting people priced out of Park City’s resort-driven real-estate market, is currently completing work on its long-delayed Line Condominiums, an affordable-housing project on Deer Valley Drive that will be the largest such development built in Park City in years.

Scott Loomis, the executive director of Mountainlands, says he appreciates the strength of the City Hall statement but says that it does not provide details.

"The fact that they would address it is a positive but there’s a lot more than updating guidelines that has to be done, obviously," he says, referring to the statement and recent City Hall discussions regarding affordable housing.

Loomis notes, for instance, that the government restricted the ability of developers to pay into a housing fund instead of building the affordable housing required of them through the city’s development rules.

Critics of such programs, known frequently as ‘payment in lieu of housing,’ say that City Hall does not collect the money needed to build the housing that otherwise would have been required. The issue was of particular note in early 2006, when the Park City Council, convening as the city’s housing authority, worried about the design of a building and allowed the developers of the Sky Lodge in Old Town to pay just more than $200,000 into a housing fund instead of building about 3.5 units of housing.

"The money is great but it doesn’t provide housing," Loomis says.

Park City Manager Tom Bakaly expects that a "significant amount" of affordable housing will be built in the city in the next two years, both by the private sector and the government. He says such projects are linked with City Hall’s efforts to turn Park City into what supporters call a ‘sustainable community,’ or one that does not greatly stress the natural resources.

He identifies a site near the post office at Snow Creek, the Park Avenue fire station land and a parcel where a sewer-treatment plant once stood off Holiday Ranch Loop Road as potential spots for affordable housing. The three sites have previously been discussed as possible locations, with the Holiday Ranch Loop Road parcel drawing the most opposition from neighbors.

Bakaly also expects developers like Talisker Park City, which is building Empire Pass, and Intermountain Healthcare, which wants to build a hospital at Quinn’s Junction, will build a significant amount of affordable housing as part of their City Hall-mandated requirements.

"We want people who work here to be able to live here," Bakaly says. "If that occurs, we believe, we can sustain our community and economy for a long time."

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