East Side landowners are inventing a village with help from Summit County
About a dozen people gathered in a conference room at the Ledges Event Center one morning last week for what looked like a fairly typical board meeting.
But the committee’s charge isn’t exactly typical; it might even be the first of its kind.
Their purpose? To design a town.
That town would be Cedar Crest, covering about 1,100 acres near Hoytsville. The committee members represented the 28 landowners who have pushed for flexibility to do more with their land in recent years, many of whom asked to be annexed into Coalville in 2017. It is separate from a failed 2018 effort to incorporate Hoytsville, which has a population of less than 1,000, as a town.
Cedar Crest Overlay Committee spokesperson Mike Crittenden said the effort gets to the heart of an existential question for the East Side: As growth threatens the traditional lifestyle and property prices have skyrocketed, what opportunities are there for the next generation?
Crittenden said the coalition came together when many locals were faced with a similar dilemma at around the same time.
“People have families and the kids all move away,” he said. “Guys out here 70 years old are moving sprinkler pipe, dealing with animals, dealing with land. It gets to be ‘OK, the next generation isn’t interested in the lifestyle. What happens next?’”
After county zoning changes in 2004 removed some flexibility for landowners, including at times the ability to subdivide their land for their kids, Crittenden said they were left looking for answers.
Crittenden said they’d like to figure out a way to have an apartment their kids can move back to, for example.
“Then, if they stick around and find some success, move to a duplex (or) townhome, then a single-family home,” he said.
That’s not possible now, as the density is tightly controlled and land costs are unattainable for most young professionals.
The effort to annex into Coalville failed, he said, and they started looking to a novel solution put forward by county land-use officials that’s gained traction in recent months called a “village overlay.”
Overlays themselves are fairly common, something planning officials might use to protect historical areas or revitalize a downtown. But Summit County Community Development Director Pat Putt, who has decades of experience in the field in multiple states, said this is the first overlay of its kind he’s ever come across.
The idea is to essentially create a village with diverse uses — like a small shopping district around a green space, for example — in an area that currently has little zoning flexibility by creating a new master plan and then new zoning.
Whereas many properties in the study area are restricted to one residence in 5, 10 or 40 acres, the village overlay is a blank slate, and the committee can recommend things like open spaces, moderate density for townhomes and duplexes, commercial uses and entire mixed-use zones.
The key, Putt said, is the bottom-up approach, where landowners are empowered to say what they want to see done with their land.
Crittenden said the coalition has a pact to put self-interest aside and plan the entire thousand acres to make the best space possible without consideration for property lines.
At the end of the process — which could be in six months or six years, county Planning and Zoning Director Peter Barnes joked — the committee will come up with a recommendation for a master plan that would guide future zoning changes and inform developers of the kind of growth they’d like to see.
The discussion in the conference room was heady, with a focus on the importance of a coherent brand — “Mountain living for financial mortals” was one suggestion — and talk about the kind of place they want to create.
The conference room overlooked the Ledges rock formation, with its petroglyphs from generations of people who had migrated through or to the area. But the committee members turned their attention instead to the future, where a college-aged Summit County planning intern named Sam Crittenden worked his way through a slide deck of potential economic opportunities.
A coffee shop, coworking space, bike shop, a bait-and-tackle shop — even a bar — passed by on the screen. Crittenden highlighted a streamside area that would make a nice park, and he and the committee members discussed the opportunities afforded by the proximity of the nearby Rail Trail.
He highlighted the importance of branding the town, using a rendering of a gas station that was surrounded by green space and attached to a park. Barnes explained how the inside of the shop and the pump area was probably the same setup as every other station in the corporation’s holdings, but the greenery showed that it was geared to a more rural area. That’s something that would have to be explicitly stated in a general plan that would guide growth.
There seemed to be consensus around the table that the town’s rural character and beauty were two strengths to be preserved, while mansions for the “1 percent” were to be avoided.
Summit County staff handed out a homework assignment for the next meeting, scheduled for Aug. 8. They asked the committee members to mark up a map of the area that included major land uses, like an existing light industrial zone and wetlands, but with the property lines dimmed in the background.
Barnes asked participants to draw what they wanted to see where, with reasons why. As an example, he sketched four wide circles for mixed-use zones, with arrows connecting them with some sort of future trail or road.
Putt said they’ll incorporate the results on the larger map.
“We’ll design the town next meeting,” he said.
Crittenden said he’s thrilled with the progress so far and the prospect of what’s to come.
“I just hope we can pull this off,” he said. “We’re going to the moon and who knows if it’s going to work.”
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