If you don’t build it, they will still come
March 4, 2016
Skullcandy, a company that makes headphones and has its world headquarters at Kimball Junction, wants to build a new building in the Boyer Tech Park at Kimball Junction. The Tech Park was intended to help diversify our economy by attracting tech industry employers. The idea is that if there is a downturn in the ski business, the lifties will move into cubicles and write code. Currently, the tech center houses the Chamber of Commerce, a high-tech coffee shop, and a high-tech real estate office.
The Skullcandy office would be the first that matches the intended goals of the project. The proposal is a 50,000 square foot building full of headphone designers, engineers, bookkeepers and patent lawyers. I imagine a building that actually throbs to the beat of commerce, with a sub-woofer that vibrates the overpass at Kimball Junction. Skullcandy thinks they need 231 parking spaces. That seems like an oddly precise number. Not 230, but 231. Apparently the guy in that last cubicle just bought a new Subaru WRX.
Summit County has rejected the proposal, saying that there can be only 146 parking spaces. So that’s what’s wrong with our community — it’s too easy to park. Part of the dispute is that the County hates the idea of that much surface parking sprawled out over the landscape. Very ugly. The County says that if Boyer builds more parking, it needs to be hidden in a parking structure. That preserves more land for future buildings that will require future parking lots.
Parking structures are very expensive. If they are underground, they cost about the same as finished space. A friend in the construction business said the only real difference between underground parking and an underground hotel conference room is the carpet. They both need lights, ventilation, elevators, fire sprinklers, drainage. Anything saved on interior finish is offset by the cost of increased load-bearing structure. On Park City’s proposed parking at the Brew Pub lot, they have used a figure of $80,000 per space or about $200/square foot with ramps and aisles. So Boyer wants surface parking.
The other issue is that the County has decided that, despite having approved a project that basically provides jobs for people who commute up from Salt Lake because not even most tech wizards can afford to live here, they can’t commute in cars. The planners reviewing the project said that a sea of parking is outdated development. "We want to encourage multi-modal transportation." If you provide parking, people will, you know, park there.
So the hot planning trend is to "under-park" projects. If there is no place to park, they will get to work by some other means. The County is suggesting they become multi-modal. I waited on the corner near my house for the multi-modal to come by, but gave up after about 40 years and drove the car.
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There’s no question traffic congestion is making life around here less pleasant than we believe we are entitled to enjoy. But telling Skullcandy that their employees have to commute to work on the imaginary "multi-modal" seems to leave some gaps.
If we are going to get people out of their cars, there has to be a practical, maybe even appealing, alternative. Now. Not some plan that might be implemented in 30 years if they close the Pentagon and money is free. Park City has a huge parking lot out on the tailings pond. You can’t get there from here. Contractors use it to shuttle workers to jobsites, which certainly helps reduce traffic by about 50 cars. But if I wanted to park there, and switch to a bus instead of dealing with the mess at the base of Park City Resort, I would be eaten by coyotes long before a bus comes.
The tailings pond lot might work if, in addition to actually running a bus, it became convenient to park there and transfer to the bus. It needs a day care center, a convenience store, and a coffee shop that would make it a practical and appealing place for somebody working in town to park, drop the kids off, and ride the bus downtown. All in one stop. It’s worse at Kimball. There’s no intercept lot. The last 85 people to show up for work at Skullcandy will live their multi-modal dream by doing laps through an already congested neighborhood in search of a place to park in somebody else’s lot before walking or biking their multi-modal butts to the office.
Of course another way to reduce congestion and parking demand might be to quit approving projects that need 285 parking places for people driving up from Salt Lake. The parking demand generated by cow pasture is quite manageable.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.