Application for new Kimball Junction neighborhood gets panned at planning commission
Nearly a year after Summit County received an ambitious application to build a new neighborhood in Kimball Junction, members of the public had their first chance Tuesday to weigh in at a public meeting.
And the overwhelming sentiment, from members of the Snyderville Basin Planning Commission and residents alike, was that the plan doesn’t offer enough public benefit to outweigh issues like increased traffic in the already-congested area.
The commission did not vote on the proposal.
The hearing’s first speaker set the tone for the evening, with many subsequent contributors echoing his sentiments.
Bob Richer is a former county commissioner who led the negotiation of the development agreement that currently governs the land and was adopted in 2008. He laid out a case that the status quo is providing benefits, like keeping hillsides undeveloped, avoiding increases in traffic, providing the opportunity for high-wage tech jobs to diversify the economy. He also said the slow pace of development at the site to date works in the county’s favor.
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The 2008 agreement restricts the allowable uses on the land to technology-related businesses. The agreement is essentially for a large office park with outdoor parking lots for each building. The deal concentrated density in one area to preserve hillsides and required the original developer to satisfy an affordable housing requirement up front, resulting in the 152-unit Liberty Peak apartments, as well as to build infrastructure including Tech Center Drive and the utilities underneath.
The new application calls for offices, a hotel and residences covering about 1.6 million square feet, 335,000 of which would be set aside for 306 affordable housing units. It would be a mostly residential neighborhood with only sparse commercial opportunities intended to increase the base of consumers for the businesses on the east side of S.R. 224.
Richer said the bar should be high for changing the agreement, with the public benefits of the proposed project certain.
He advised commissioners to look at the project with a long time horizon in mind, and to consider what it would be like to drive past it in 20 years with their children in the car, and whether they’d be proud of what was built.
“Say no, keep saying no, and you’ll get to the developer’s bottom line,” he advised.
Ryan Dickey, chair of the Snyderville Basin Planning Commission, said while Richer’s comments were largely ones the commission had considered before, the coherent narrative Richer constructed was beneficial, as was hearing from someone who had been intimately involved in crafting the agreement the current application is seeking to amend.
Tuesday’s meeting was the eighth about the Dakota Pacific Real Estate proposal. More than 60 people tuned in to the virtual meeting at times, Dickey said, while about a dozen members of the public commented, including long-time activists, former elected officials and nearby residents, with the overwhelming majority speaking out against the project. The major concerns were traffic, the desire to maintain the ability to diversify the local economy and the opportunity cost of developing vast tracts of undeveloped land in Kimball Junction.
“What I’m speaking up for is a lost opportunity, probably the last opportunity we have for Kimball Junction,” said former Planning Commissioner Colin DeFord, advising commissioners not to settle for this application, nor for the “carrot” of affordable housing.
Former County Commissioner Sally Elliott said it remained important to diversify the area’s tourism-based economy, especially as the climate continues to warm.
Planning commissioners themselves offered negative feedback, with Malena Stevens saying the affordable housing component likely wasn’t strong enough to earn her vote, a point echoed by others.
Dickey said that the nearly universal negative feedback from the Planning Commission likely wasn’t anything new, but that they had waited to give feedback until the developers laid out their case.
The developers, who purchased the property in December, 2018, originally presented a plan in August they called aspirational that included gondolas shuttling people around the neighborhood, up to the nearby Utah Olympic Park and possibly across S.R. 224; pedestrian walkways across the busy thoroughfare; and an underground transit hub that would serve as an anchor point for an anticipated bus rapid transit system.
Dickey said the developers “dropped most of the sizzle that would appeal to the public” when pressed for an application that they could accomplish without the assistance of taxpayer money, but Dakota Pacific Real Estate says the current plan keeps alive the possibility of pursuing those projects in the future.
Commissioner Canice Harte said he’s looking at the proposal as basically replacing a tech park with a housing project and that he has a hard time looking past the traffic that would likely be produced.
County officials adopted a new Kimball Junction Neighborhood Master Plan last year, and many of the elements in that plan are integrated in the Dakota Pacific application. The Kimball Junction plan calls for integrated mixed-use neighborhoods that would increase residential density and support businesses integrated in neighborhoods.
Dickey said that his fear when passing the neighborhood plan was that the residential density would come before other fixes, exacerbating current issues like traffic. He called it a cart and horse problem.
“If you don’t have the density, it’s hard to fix the rest of the Junction, but if you don’t fix the rest of the Junction, it’s hard to have the density,” he said. “… My concern at the time of approval was, do we just open the door to all of the density and none of the public good. And the first application we got for it was exactly that.”
He said it’s up to the applicant to address the concerns raised in the meeting, a point echoed by developer Jeff Gochnour.
“We’re grateful for the feedback we’ve received from the planning commission and members of the public. We’re taking all suggestions into consideration as we move forward in the planning process,” Gochnour wrote in an email to The Park Record.
The public hearing is slated to resume July 28.
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