East Side Planning Commissioner resigns
Three-term member Sean Wharton says he’s not happy with Summit County
Sean Wharton, a three-term Eastern Summit County Planning Commissioner with more than two years left in his term, says he submitted his resignation last month to explore new opportunities outside of Summit County.
Wharton, a longtime Summit County resident, said he decided to step down from the seven-member board because he was “not happy with the way things were going in Summit County.”
“It wasn’t politically motivated,” he said. “But, I think, the caveat is there are a lot of things that were pushing me out of Summit County. If they want a bunch of likeminded thinkers that will fill their agenda, then I will resign my seat and I did. I had wanted to be someone who represented the people.”
Wharton recently placed his house and business of 20 years — the Gateway Grille in Kamas — for sale to accept a job as the food and beverage director of Brian Head Resort, leaving behind his home in Marion. He attended Park City High School in the 1980s while living in Park Meadows and settled for nearly 20 years in the Snyderville Basin after graduation.
“Once I made that decision to move on, I can’t tell you how happy I am to just wash my hands of it and go away,” he said. “I am no longer a big Summit County fan, and it is not where I want to have me and my family.”
Wharton spent a significant amount of his time on the Planning Commission helping rewrite Chapters 3 and 4 of the East Side Development Code, which reconfigured the zoning districts for the East Side and updated certain definitions within the code. The process was a nearly three-year undertaking with more than 30 work sessions and 20 public hearings at the commission level.
In March of 2016, the Summit County Council received the Planning Commission’s recommendations for the Development Code. But, Wharton said, the County Council has been “dragging their feet” with the document.
“They are drafting this new legislation that really doesn’t give the little bit of flexibility we were trying to give to longtime landowners,” he said. “What we were doing was cracking the door open for owners to keep their farms intact and that has kind of been washed away now. It is written in a way that anyone with enough money can do anything they want, where they want.”
Summit County Council Chair Chris Robinson said he was unaware of the reasoning behind Wharton’s resignation. He admitted the County Council has taken it’s time with the East Side Development code, but only to ensure the changes will “endure the test of time.”
“What he is calling foot dragging is very deliberate consideration,” he said. “We are trying to get it right.”
Former Planning Commissioner Chris Ure said the County Council charged the Planning Commission with fixing the problems landowners on the East Side were facing. But, he said, the County Council is not adhering to the proposed solutions.
“The County Council does not listen to the landowners,” said Ure, whose third term with the Planning Commission expired in February of 2017. But, he was involved with the rewrite of the development code.
“They are listening to the population and it’s a joke,” Ure said. “The Council, in my opinion, has no touch with reality on the East Side. It’s frustrating to know that we wasted three plus years of life working on something that, at the end of the day, is now piecemealed together.”
Wharton said it appears that the Park City mindset, a Democratic stronghold, is beginning to govern the predominantly Republican east end of Summit County, where, he said, a majority of residents have a different ideology.
“People on the East Side want room to roam and grow,” he said. “It’s different. There is a Park City dynamic that is climbing over the hill, but it doesn’t represent the eastern part of the county. Park City carries a loud voice when they are really a minority of the population.”
“It’s unrealistic and not sustainable,” he added. “With the direction they are going, that’s just not what I’m about. I don’t see the direction they are going as really positive. There are some pros and some cons, but for me personally, it’s enough for me to say, ‘I’ve had enough. I’m out of here.’”
For years, Wharton worked as a restaurateur and small businessman on the East Side of the county. He has served on the boards of directors for the Welcome Home Addiction and Recovery Lifestyles Academy and Recycle Utah.
He unsuccessfully ran for a seat on the County Council four times, most recently losing to Doug Clyde in the Summit County Democratic primary in the 2016 race. Clyde went on to defeat Colin DeFord in the General Election.
In an interview with The Park Record, Wharton sounded somewhat disappointed to be leaving the community, but resolved to find better opportunities for him and his family.
“I was the moderate on the Planning Commission,” he said. “I’m not far left or far right. I was just trying to come up with reasonable solutions that worked well for everyone.”