Big project spurs rumors
In a statement that salted an otherwise routine Park City Planning Commission meeting, the panel’s chairman recently questioned aloud whether there have been premature assurances that a development at Quinn’s Junction would be approved.
The brief comments from Michael O’Hara, a veteran Planning Commissioner known as a centrist, were unexpected in that it is rare that a member of the influential panel discusses such topics in a public setting.
Neighbors who oppose a development sometimes accuse Park City officials of having decided to cast ‘Yea’ votes well before it is time to vote, but members of the Planning Commission typically do not make such statements and often refute similar accusations from regular Parkites.
O’Hara told the developers and city staffers during the meeting that he had heard from City Hall sources that the project would be approved even though, in O’Hara’s estimation, it does not fit with the city’s General Plan, an overarching document that guides development in the city.
The meeting was the Planning Commission’s first regarding the project, known as Park City Heights. It is situated near the southwest corner of Quinn’s Junction, well off U.S. 40 and S.R. 248. The developers want to annex 257 acres of land into the city and then build 303 units in a mix of regularly priced houses and restricted affordable housing.
Almost half of the units are envisioned as affordable housing, far more than required by City Hall’s development rules. Those units would include housing required of Park City Heights, the Montage in Empire Pass and the Intermountain Healthcare hospital under construction nearby.
About 82 of the affordable units are not necessitated by City Hall’s rules, meaning the developer, in a rare carrot, would build more affordable housing than the local government would otherwise make them.
The Park Record was unable to contact the developer.
City Hall sees itself as being among the biggest supporters of affordable housing, and it is likely the extra units are appealing to the local government. City Hall adheres to a theory that Park City is better off if a larger percentage of the local workforce can afford to live in the city limits, where the resort-driven housing market prices many people out of Park City.
There was little response to O’Hara’s comments at the meeting.
Ray Milliner, the City Hall planner assigned to Park City Heights, says staffers remain neutral, and he is unsure of what led to O’Hara’s statement.
"No one I know of made these kinds of comments," Milliner says.
Approving an annexation is often a drawn-out endeavor. It requires a recommendation from the Planning Commission, which could take months, and then the City Council considers the request. If the land is annexed, the developers must return to the Planning Commission to secure more detailed approvals.
In an interview, O’Hara says sources had told him the project "was going to happen. It was a done deal." According to O’Hara, two sources spoke to him in the last several weeks, including one on the day of the recent meeting. He had heard similar comments from sources in the spring or early summer. He describes one of his sources as someone with inside contacts at City Hall.
O’Hara refuses to provide details about the sources, but he says he approached Mayor Dana Williams and City Councilors months ago with the information. He says the elected officials at the time assured him Park City Heights would be reviewed in a similar fashion as other proposals. He says he believes, "genuinely" the response from the elected officials.
"My allegation is there is a rumor. We need to kill the rumor," O’Hara says. "I have no allegation the project has been wired, greased or otherwise influenced."
Much of the development pressure in the immediate Park City area in the last several years has shifted from the S.R. 224 corridor to the S.R. 248 entryway, where huge tracts of land remain in play.
City Hall built a recreation center at Quinn’s Junction, and the National Ability Center campus, the Intermountain Healthcare hospital and the national headquarters of the United States Ski and Snowboard Association sites are nearby.
There is little residential development at Quinn’s Junction, but there are ambitious ideas to build there, including Park City Heights.
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Buses, trains and gondolas doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, but they make up the transit alternatives for the mountain transportation system the Central Wasatch Commission is trying to create, mostly in the Cottonwood canyons.