The atmosphere in the auditorium of the Sheldon Richins Building on Wednesday was tense and emotional during a public hearing regarding requested special exceptions to code for the 105-unit Discovery development. After nearly a three-hour hearing, the Summit County Council denied developers' requests to the applause of the audience.
A project years in the making, the Discovery project was approved in 2011 under the Community Oriented Residential Enhancement (CORE) code, which has since been repealed. The CORE code promotes the clustering of development to preserve open space.
Developers were requesting two special exceptions to the development code: increased road grades (as steep as 12 percent in some areas) and decreased setbacks of homes from property lines.
Bruce Baird, the legal counsel for the developers, gave a lengthy presentation about the project along with Glen Lent, president of Alpine Development, LLC. Baird said that when the county created the CORE code in 2011, it did not update the corresponding design standards in its code to allow for clustering.
The decreased setbacks of homes from property lines are necessary to cluster development, Baird said, and increased road grades prevent additional cutting and filling of the landscape, as well as retaining walls. He added that developers could come back with a site plan that fully complies with the code, but that such a design would present drawbacks, including the following:
Baird and Lent added that there are already areas such as Glenwild and The Colony that have road grades greater than 8 percent, and areas such as Bear Hollow Village that have smaller setbacks.
Council member Dave Ure pointed to the safety hazards the development would present. "Going into a stop sign with an 8 to 12 percent slope, I'm telling you, in reality, you can't stop, especially in this terrain where you have snow for nine months," Ure said, who also pointed to a concern about inadequate snow storage in the neighborhood.
During the public hearing, Summit Park resident Neil Fisher questioned whether the public open space, parks and trails that would be taken off the table with the '100 percent compliant' design were because of layout issues or whether they were "threats." Baird had several times urged the Council to "call his bluff" that developers would build a development that would not offer such benefits.
Council member Roger Armstrong was stunned by Baird's presentation.
"I've never seen, in any situation in a quasi-judicial hearing, where counsel has led with a threat. It's actually remarkable to me," Armstrong said. "It doesn't put me in a good state of mind to analyze the issues."
Lent maintained that the current Snyderville Basin Development Code is for "suburban Sandy" and that the code must be changed in order to promote clustering and open space. He added that the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials says that road grades up to 15 percent are acceptable.
Public speaks out
Before public input opened, residents began to line up next to the podium to speak, most of whom were in opposition to the project.
Bill Hickey said the Discovery project was "grandfathered in" on the repealed CORE code, which he called "well-intentioned" but "fatally flawed." He added the developer does not have the "right" to build on the property.
Jim Roberts, who lives on a parcel adjacent to the property, pointed to the dangers the increased road grades would pose, saying that guests at his home cannot even get up his driveway in the wintertime due to the grade and conditions.
Kathy Rasmussen, however, spoke in favor of the project, saying that the county had initially approached the developers, asking them to build affordable housing on the property.
Jeremy Ranch resident Josh Mann urged the Council not to give in to Baird's "threats," stating that the developer cannot withhold mandatory open space from residents.
After public input, Armstrong said the whole process had felt "extortive" and that the Council could not approve the project under any circumstances.
Council member Claudia McMullin was blunter in her rebuke.
"One thing I know for sure is that we did not create the special exception to horse-trade a deal," McMullin said. "You wasted our time, you wasted the public's time, and it means you have absolutely no regard for this community."
With Council Chair Chris Robinson absent, the Council voted 4-0 to deny the special exceptions for the Discovery project. Lent said developers will move forward with a final plat that will be in full compliance with the code.
"I think emotions got in the way of really doing what was best for the community," Lent said, adding that the county did not provide an appropriate "vehicle" for affordable housing to be provided. "The unfortunate part is that these standards have been allowed throughout the county. They're holding us to a higher standard than what's been allowed throughout the county."
Lent said that community members were opposed to the project "in general" and that if they had understood the special exceptions requested, they would have been in favor of it.
"[The county] wanted our help, and it's been a fight from day one," Lent said. "They have not been a fair partner. This is really a public/private partnership to provide affordable housing."