Park City election: traffic headaches, housing struggles, community corporatization
How on earth will the Park City Council candidates address the traffic situation in Park City?
What will they pledge to accomplish regarding housing in the community?
And how well do they understand the impact on Park City of the consolidation and corporatization of the ski industry?
With the start of the fall election season having arrived with Miners Day, and with the City Council ballot set after a recount to determine the last spot in the field, the campaign has entered a new phase with a little less than two months left before voters in Park City decide a majority of the seats on the five-person City Council.
Six people are vying for three seats. Incumbents Nann Worel and Becca Gerber are joined on the ballot by Max Doilney, Deanna Rhodes, Ed Parigian and Daniel Lewis. The primary season lacked the intensity seen in some previous campaigns, and it is not clear if there will be a marked increase in the politicking without a pivotal issue commanding attention in this year’s campaign. The issues are similar to those of previous campaigns with adjustments for the contest of 2019.
Some of the issues the candidates will likely address during the fall campaign include:
• traffic, a topic that has befuddled City Hall for years but one that has seemed to garner even more intense attention recently. The municipal government continues to address traffic but with only modest success. Traffic remains one of the top complaints of Parkites and commuters, who encounter backups at many points during the ski season and the summer. The backups have become more frequent during the shoulder seasons as well, times when the traffic cannot exclusively be blamed on the tourism. It is a difficult issue for City Hall, though. The municipal government has already taken numerous steps to cut traffic, such as expanding the bus lines and providing bicycle lanes, but the complaints persist. The candidates, then, will likely be made to offer solutions that perhaps have not been widely debated even though it seems that there are few options, with the topography of the Park City area and funding realities two of the challenges. Voters could also insist the candidates address the future of S.R. 248, one of the state-controlled Park City entryways, amid the Utah Department of Transportation’s controversial discussions regarding an expansion of the road that would be designed to meet the projected traffic increases in coming decades. City Hall does not hold power over the S.R. 248 project, but the issue has drawn enough attention in Park City that the candidates may eventually need to discuss the topic in some fashion.
• workforce or otherwise affordable housing, an issue that has long proven difficult and is expected to continue to draw controversy as City Hall pursues an aggressive program. Supporters like those at City Hall see the workforce or otherwise affordable housing as something that offers wide-ranging benefits to the community. They say the housing program increases socioeconomic diversity and reduces commuter traffic, two of the overarching goals of Park City. But critics worry about the impact of the housing on individual neighborhoods, saying projects will increase traffic on the nearby streets and introduce more development into places that many already see as densely packed. The municipal government wants to add 800 units of restricted housing deemed to be affordable or attainable by the end of 2026. It is an aggressive goal that will require continuing work by the next City Council roster. The City Council field appears to support the broad goals of the housing program, but the candidates will likely need to offer specifics as voters seek details about the potential projects that would continue the work toward the 800-unit goal. There has already been neighborhood resistance in some sections of Old Town that City Hall sees as suitable for municipal housing developments. Potential locations for the restricted housing have been greatly diminished over time as the number of large development parcels has dwindled with landowners pursuing their own market-priced projects.
• the consolidation and further corporatization of the ski industry is an especially difficult topic for the City Council field as well as the current slate of elected officials since the municipal government has little influence over the issue. The consolidation was driven by competitiveness in the ski industry, including a series of aggressive moves by Vail Resorts. The Colorado-based firm, which owns Park City Mountain Resort, has expanded its roster of resorts and offers skiing privileges across its family of properties through the Epic Pass season-pass product. Alterra Mountain Company, the owner of Deer Valley Resort, offers a season-pass product known as the Ikon Pass, which was designed to compete on a head-to-head basis with the Epic Pass from Vail Resorts. Many in Park City who are worried about crowds and traffic increases seem to pin much of the blame on the arrival of Vail Resorts and Alterra Mountain Company in the past five-plus years, saying the consolidation in the industry and the introduction of the multi-resort passes has led to a corporate vibe in the community. There has also been community consternation regarding the arrival of national corporate interests along Main Street. The City Council field can offer ideas to address corporatization, such as pressing the resorts on topics like transit and housing as they relate to development approvals, but it seems City Hall has limited influence as the private sector weighs its own interests in Park City.
• growth, the overriding issue in Park City politics for decades now and a topic so broad it influences at some level most every aspect of the municipal government. Even though there is not a singular development proposal, like Treasure or Empire Pass in previous campaigns, that will drive the political debate in 2019, there seems to be community consternation about growth and its impacts on a range of other issues. Many Parkites worry about the impacts, such as traffic and the loss of open space, even as others see economic opportunities in growth. The City Council campaign could eventually touch on growth-related topics like development planned at the bases of Park City Mountain Resort and Deer Valley Resort, the arts and cultural district envisioned by City Hall along Kearns Boulevard and Bonanza Drive and the municipal government’s desire to continue to develop workforce or otherwise restricted housing. It is unclear, though, what sort of debate voters should expect regarding growth over the course of the campaign. There seems to be solid community support for the municipal housing projects, albeit with some pockets of resistance, as well as for the idea to develop an arts and cultural district. The developments planned at the resort base areas, meanwhile, date to overall approvals granted decades ago, meaning previous sets of Park City leaders made the crucial decisions regarding those projects. Still, though, the electorate likely will want to ensure the candidates clearly outline growth platforms.
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Park City Mountain Resort owner Vail Resorts in early June submitted a letter to the Park City Planning Commission in support of a Provo developer’s blueprints for a major project at the resort.