Affordable housing criticized | ParkRecord.com

Affordable housing criticized

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

Foreshadowing what will likely be a disputed development application, the Park City Council on Thursday night, after hearing from dismayed neighbors, agreed to pursue an affordable-housing project at Snow Creek.

The City Council’s decision does not allow the project to proceed, though, and City Hall will face the neighbors again once the plans are formalized and submitted to the city’s Planning Commission.

But the Thursday meeting showed that City Hall will face opposition and the upcoming meetings could rekindle the long-running dispute in Park City between the affordable-housing backers and the people who do not want those sorts of projects built in their neighborhood.

The land is vacant and covers about five acres east of the site where a new police station is under construction off Park Avenue, near the U.S. Post Office. Officials have not finalized many details and are unsure how large a project they will pursue.

Phyllis Robinson, who handles affordable-housing issues for City Hall, says the land could probably hold between 12 and 24 units. Housing would not cover the entire parcel. A budget is not set.

She expects the local government will file applications with the Planning Department next week. In June, the city will request proposals from designers and builders, with Robinson saying a timeline envisions construction starting in spring 2008, pending the approvals needed.

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Meanwhile, City Hall will seek affordable-housing proposals for another site, where the Park Avenue fire station sits, at the same time. That project, the city says, could put in between 12 and 16 units, incorporating a historic house now on the land.

Robinson says the schedule for the fire station site, on the 1300 block of Park Avenue, will follow the Snow Creek efforts, with City Hall approaching the Planning Commission in January. The housing on the fire-station land depends on City Hall purchasing or trading for the land, which is now held by the Park City Fire District. A deal is pending.

The two projects represent a significant move for City Hall as it tries to provide options for people otherwise priced out of Park City’s resort-driven real-estate market. The Park City housing market is tight, both in the rental and for-sale sectors, and the local government has for years seen itself as an affordable-housing leader. The boosters say Park City is better off if people like police officers and firefighters live locally. Detractors usually counter that they do not want the housing built in their neighborhood. They often worry about falling property values, traffic and losing open space.

"This is an opportunity for us to do a very decent project," Mayor Dana Williams said, adding the Snow Creek development could be "a showcase of what we want people to see."

Robinson says the Snow Creek and Park Avenue projects would be the first time City Hall builds affordable housing on its own. Usually, the local government teams with other developers, sometimes providing funding help, for instance.

Scott Loomis, who directs Mountainlands Community Housing Trust, a not-for-profit involved in affordable housing, told the elected officials they are "absolutely on the right track" by pursuing the projects.

Neighbors, though, have targeted the Snow Creek site, saying that the project is inappropriate. Several testified on Thursday night, telling Williams and the City Councilors the land should not be developed. They mentioned points like they’d prefer it be set aside as open space, that people who work in Salt Lake City instead of members of Park City’s workforce would live there and that flood insurance for people buying units would be expensive.

Sheila Haloff Berry, from the nearby Windrift condominiums, worried about building near wetlands. Williams countered that part of the property is not protected from development because of wetlands but she asked that the land be preserved.

"I’d love to have open space there," she said.

Nancy Solomon, another neighbor, agreed, saying, "it looks like wetlands and open space."

It is likely that Thursday’s testimony offers a preview of what the Planning Commission will hear when it considers the application. Commissioners will hold at least one hearing before deciding whether to allow the project. The Planning Commission will debate more details of the housing, such as its effect on traffic flow and its design.

In a related discussion, the elected officials were leery of a developer’s request to build the affordable housing required by the St. Regis, a ritzy hotel in Deer Crest, on the City Hall land. The City Councilors prefer the city build separately from the St. Regis requirement.