Park City housing: campsites exist, but shipping containers?
Officials address nontraditional living quarters as difficulties continue
THE PARK RECORD
Park City officials on Tuesday fielded a question during an informal gathering about people reported to be living in hillside campsites, an inquiry that led to a brief but broader discussion about the difficulties of the city’s housing situation.
Park City Councilors Nann Worel and Cindy Matsumoto appeared at a Coffee with Council event at the Park City Library, speaking about a variety of topics in front of approximately 20 people. Coffee with Council events typically touch on a diverse range of subjects, and it seemed that some in the crowd on Tuesday sought information about a series of reports in recent months about people living in campsites.
Carol Murphy, a Prospector resident, asked about campsites along the Rail Trail. She worried about a dangerous scenario with the possibility of people lighting fires to keep warm. She said there is broken glass, an increasing amount of garbage and graffiti. There is also human waste, Murphy said.
“It’s perfectly obvious where people are spending the night,” Murphy said.
Matsumoto deflected the comments to Park City Manager Diane Foster, who was also at the event. Foster said the Park City Police Department early in the week deployed a drone to assist in the search for campsites. Foster also said a police officer is working with the Christian Center of Park City to encourage people without living quarters to move to a homeless shelter. The city manager said at least one person found at a campsite told officials he can afford traditional housing but prefers to live on the land.
“The police are spending a lot of attention on it,” Foster said.
The people in the audience shifted the discussion toward the possibility of creating nontraditional housing options in Park City. One person triggered a brief talk about repurposing large shipping containers. Shipping container-style housing would apparently not offer indoor plumbing, it was said. Another person worried about the look of shipping containers. Matsumoto said City Hall was not considering that sort of housing.
An audience member also commented about the possibility of creating boardinghouses for the seasonal work force. Matsumoto responded by describing that some of City Hall’s bus drivers live in boardinghouse-style accommodations, such as those at a building that once was a fire station on Park Avenue.
Murphy, a former member of the Park City Board of Education, meanwhile, said perhaps City Hall and the Park City School District could better coordinate housing efforts.
The discussion about campsites and the general issue of housing was held amid the continuing concerns about Park City’s resort-driven real estate market pricing out the rank-and-file work force. Park City leaders see housing as a priority and are pursuing an aggressive program involving developing or acquiring units. They argue work force or otherwise restricted affordable housing provides benefits like ensuring socioeconomic diversity and reducing commuter traffic.
Some have offered nontraditional housing ideas like repurposed shipping containers or developing so-called tiny houses, but those sorts of efforts have not won enough support to advance. City Hall instead has been interested in traditional housing units.
“It would be a long discussion about it,” Matsumoto said about repurposing shipping containers for housing, indicating City Hall rules would need to be changed to allow that sort of dwelling.
The Coffee With Council events and the wintertime Aprés With Council gatherings are designed for people to talk with elected officials outside the setting of a formal City Council meeting. Mayor Jack Thomas and the five members of the City Council rotate appearances. The gatherings in recent months have touched on a broad range of topics, including widely publicized subjects like traffic and housing as well as ones that are tailored to individuals in the crowd such as lights on a pedestrian trail.
The crowd was also interested in Park City’s recent enactment of a ban on large stores distributing razor-thin plastic bags designed to be used just once. Someone in the audience asked whether Summit County leaders will enact a ban similar to the one in Park City. Worel said there has not been a formal discussion between Park City officials and Summit County about the topic, but the two jurisdictions could address it later.
The City Councilors were also asked how Park City visitors would be informed of the ban. Matsumoto said lots of people are world travelers and are familiar with similar bans elsewhere.
The people in the audience were also interested in Park City’s plans for the 4th of July festivities. Officials have expressed concern the Independence Day celebration over time has lost some of its local flavor. Steve Joyce, who is campaigning for a City Council seat this year, described that the 4th of July celebration’s character has changed. Matsumoto said the parade is well known nowadays, but she wants it to be designed for a Park City audience.
“Our goal is to keep it local, funky and fun,” she said.
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It was an important decision since the rest of the talks will be heavily influenced by the processing option selected by the Planning Commission on Wednesday.