Could Summit County be forced to approve the Dakota Pacific project?
Utah House passes bill taking aim at the 2008 development agreement restricting what can be built to mostly tech-related office buildings
Summit County is once again the target of a land-use bill proposed in the Utah Legislature aimed at reducing local control in Kimball Junction – specifically at the Park City Tech Center.
Rep. Casey Snider, a Republican serving Cache County, on Monday introduced House Bill 446, which would have amended Housing and Transit Reinvestment Zones and included language intended to force the Summit County Council to approve Dakota Pacific Real Estate’s request to amend a 2008 development agreement.
But in a move parallel to last year’s legislative session, Snider folded the language into Senate Bill 84, a bill that would also amend provisions related to HTRZs, before state lawmakers voted on it Wednesday. The bill passed in the Utah House of Representatives that morning. The state Senate later approved the amendments on Thursday afternoon.
The County Courthouse heard rumors early in the session that spot-zoning legislation taking aim at Summit County may appear. Malena Stevens, the vice chair of the County Council, said in an interview that officials are frustrated, albeit not surprised, by the tactic.
“We are watching the bill and are hopeful that the majority of the legislators in the House and Senate will be inclined to respect local control of land use matters and will resist this horrible assault on local communities’ rights of self-determination,” County Councilor Roger Armstrong said in a prepared statement.
S.B. 84 builds upon housing and transit requirements passed in H.B. 462 during the 2022 general session, which also targeted Summit County. The now-law required Summit County officials to develop an HTRZ, which is intended to promote affordable housing around a public transportation hub, as part of the moderate-income housing plan. In Summit County, that’s adjacent to the proposed site of the Dakota Pacific development. It also requires half of the developable land inside an HTRZ to have residential uses.
But the latest bill would give the owner of an undeveloped property in the zone, that submitted a development application by the end of 2022, certain rights if a county didn’t comply with the law. Summit County submitted a moderate-income housing plan, which laid out the process for creating an HTRZ – but not a finalized proposal.
S.B. 84 would grant the landowner rights including being able to build “at least 39 dwelling units per acre on average over the developable area, with at least 10% of the dwelling units as affordable housing units… (and) commercial uses including office, retail, educational, and healthcare in support of the mixed-use development.”
County officials said the language is nearly identical to what Dakota Pacific is pursuing in the Kimball Junction area.
When asked about concerns that Dakota Pacific has been working with legislatures to help get its development approved, the company said in an email it supports the proposed changes to housing and transportation reinvestment zone legislation to “encourage compliance by local governments, including Summit County, and to expedite the development of urgently needed affordable housing near major transportation hubs like Kimball Junction.”
“Utah’s housing crisis is a statewide issue in which counties have a vital role to play. We will continue following this legislative process,” a statement from the company said.
The County Courthouse characterized the legislation as “unprecedented” in that it seeks to interfere with the existing development agreement that limits what can be built on the site to mostly tech-related office buildings. Officials said they could have simply rejected the application based on the 2008 agreement but instead decided to consider whether the project offered a public benefit.
Stevens recognized that state lawmakers are working quickly to address the affordable housing issue in Utah, but she said Summit County has been working diligently on Dakota Pacific’s submittal when possible. The project has been in limbo for nearly a year after the developers asked to rework the application amid intense pushback from the public. The County Council and community received their first update since a crowded Dec. 2021 meeting just earlier this month.
Summit County Reps. Kera Birkeland, Mike Kohler and Brian King voted in favor of S.B. 84. The county’s representatives may have been unaware of the implications the legislation has locally, Stevens speculated. She said they likely had to consider the other elements of the near 500-line-long bill.
“I feel like we still have good relationships with our representatives and we’ll continue to work on those relationships. It is harder when there is a strategy being employed to essentially take out pieces of the process,” Stevens said. “H.B. 446 would have had to go through committee and there would have been additional light shone on it, versus dropping a bill on Monday and folding it into a totally different bill that had already been approved. I would think it would be much harder to kill an existing bill than one that wasn’t previously approved.”
County officials initially planned to host a public hearing on Feb. 22 to discuss the proposed changes to the development agreement. Instead, the County Council will hold a work session with the developers on that day to better understand how the legislation impacts their application as well as the county. No public comment will be taken.
The community can weigh in on Dakota Pacific’s application from 5 to 8:30 p.m. on March 1 at Ecker Hill Middle School. A location has not yet been set for a public hearing on March 8. The County Council is expected to deliberate on the amendment application and make a final decision during its March 15 meeting.
“At the end of this process, the County Council will make a decision and we will be satisfied that Dakota Pacific Real Estate received a full and fair analysis of its proposed amended uses, and that the public will have had the opportunity to learn about the proposed changes and to provide its input to both parties,” Armstrong said.
He continued, “We hope that our legislators will recognize the danger of destroying local control, even in matters where the legislature has strong feelings for supporting an applicant. Absent profound health, safety, or welfare issues that require state intervention, land use is an especially local issue because of the impact to specific residents and communities, and not one requiring state intervention.”
Though the Legislature may force Summit County to approve the amendments to the Park City Tech Center development agreement, the developers will still be required to obtain permits for the project so it’s unlikely they’ll break ground right away. Gov. Spencer Cox must also sign the bill before it becomes law.
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