Talisker housing will ‘drag down’ Old Town | ParkRecord.com

Talisker housing will ‘drag down’ Old Town

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

An Old Town woman in late September, displeased with Talisker’s bid to build a work force housing project in the upper reaches of the neighborhood, condemned the idea in a strongly worded letter to City Hall that charged the project will depress property values and push crime numbers higher.

Betsy Wallace, who lives at 158 Main St., close to the Marsac Avenue land where Talisker wants to build the housing, is especially stark in her assessment of the project.

Her letter, which was submitted to Brooks Robinson, the City Hall planner assigned to the project, on Sept. 25 and distributed in anticipation of an Oct. 2 Park City Council meeting, predicted the development will "drag down the property values of Old Town" and "increase crime in Old Town."

In bold statements, Wallace asked how City Hall and Talisker will "reimburse home owners in Old Town for their loss of home value." She also asked about City Hall and the developer funding additional police patrols in the neighborhood "to ward off the increase in crime."

Wallace refers to people who would live in the development as "low-income housing folks," and she predicts more traffic accidents on Marsac Avenue as people living in the development commute to their jobs in Empire Pass. She wonders about increased bus service.

"I think it’s fairly worrisome to several people in the Old Town area," Wallace said in an interview.

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Work force housing ideas in other neighborhoods have long upset neighbors, with many of the complaints elsewhere resembling some of those Wallace outlined. It is uncommon, however, for someone to query about compensation to neighbors of work force housing developments.

Talisker wants to build 10 houses at 100 Marsac Ave. to be set aside for the work force. City Hall requires large developers like Talisker to build income-restricted housing. The housing on Marsac Avenue is part of the bloc of work force units required as part of the developer’s Empire Pass project on the slopes of Deer Valley Resort.

There was scattered neighborhood concern as Talisker sought a first round of approvals for the Marsac Avenue project. The city’s Planning Commission in July essentially approved the development, but the City Council is required to grant another approval, for a subdivision. The elected officials have sent the project back to the lower panel for additional deliberations.

A Talisker executive, responding to the Wallace letter in an interview, said the development fits well onto Marsac Avenue. David Smith, the Talisker attorney who leads the firm’s talks with City Hall, said the project was designed after discussions with neighbors, City Hall staffers and Planning Commissioners.

"I can’t imagine there would be an adverse impact," Smith said, touting the location as close to the Old Town transit center so residents can ride buses and saying Talisker plans to build a sidewalk and a pedestrian crossing on Marsac Avenue in an effort to discourage people living there from driving.

Smith said Talisker hopes to start construction by the end of 2008, with a completion date forecast for mid-2009. Talisker plans to offer the houses to qualifying people, regardless of whether they work for the developer or in Empire Pass, Smith said.

Mayor Dana Williams, a longtime advocate for work force housing, in an interview challenged the assertions in the Wallace letter, claiming there have not been instances of work force projects depressing neighboring property values. He noted properties close to the Line Condominiums, a Deer Valley Drive work force project, have retained their values.

"We’ve certainly never had a project, to date, that has brought down the neighborhood around it," Williams said, adding, "A lot of people tend to think affordable housing is for gang members and drug dealers."

He said there have not been indicators of crime increases linked to work force housing that is put up for sale, saying the "premise of (Wallace’s) argument is inaccurate." A community like Park City that depends on a resort economy, Williams said, must provide work force housing.

"I think it has a lot to do with people who are not aware of what it takes to run a resort economy," Williams said.

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