Park City housing efforts will take decades, mayor says | ParkRecord.com

Park City housing efforts will take decades, mayor says

Officials continue to outline work to address ‘essential problem’

Park City Councilor Becca Gerber and Mayor Jack Thomas appeared at an Aprs With Council gathering on Main Street on Tuesday, covering issues like housing, the bus system and the planned acquisition of Bonanza Flats. Approximately 50 people attended.

The issue of work force or otherwise restricted affordable housing in Park City will not be solved in a timely fashion and will instead stretch for years, the mayor of Park City told a crowd on Tuesday.

Jack Thomas, in his first term as the city's top elected official, addressed housing during a City Hall-sponsored gathering at the Spur Bar & Grill on Main Street. He said housing will be an "ongoing battle" for Park City.

"We have decades of work to do . . . It's the essential problem," Thomas told a crowd of approximately 50 people at an Aprés With Council event.

He described a situation starting long ago as leaders relied on the free market regarding housing. Thomas also said housing impacts other issues City Hall must address like transportation and energy. He said the essence of the community will be lost if full-time residents move out of Park City. Thomas, meanwhile, said housing values in Park City are increasing faster than other investment categories and it is not profitable for a developer to build housing that is affordable to a wide range of people.

Becca Gerber, a Park City Councilor who appeared alongside the mayor, said it is difficult for her to watch friends leave Park City based on housing issues. Gerber, who grew up in Park City, said Park City should not be seen as a "Disneyland."

"We're going to have to build very smart," Gerber said.

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She said leaders want 800 units of restricted housing inside the city limits and want people living "actually in Park City proper." She said, though, Park City officials are also collaborating with Summit County leaders on housing.

The two elected officials did not provide detailed new ideas to address housing, opting to outline City Hall's ongoing efforts. The municipal government is pursuing an aggressive housing plan involving developing a series of City Hall-controlled properties, particularly along the lower Park Avenue corridor.

But the discussion, though broad, further illustrated the concern in the community about housing. Park City has long been the most expensive real estate market in the state, pricing many rank-and-file workers out of the city. Leaders say there are numerous benefits when the work force lives in the community where they are employed, including reducing commuter traffic and ensuring socioeconomic diversity.

The Aprés With Council series and similar gatherings are designed as an opportunity for Parkites to discuss Park City issues outside the setting of official City Hall meetings. Two elected officials normally attend to field questions. The events typically cover a wide range of topics as the officials move from question to question. The gathering on Tuesday touched on topics like the Treasure development proposal, the Sundance Film Festival and the planned acquisition of Bonanza Flats for conservation purposes.

Niels Vernegaard, an Old Town resident and an opponent of the Treasure proposal on a hillside along the route of the Town Lift, told the mayor and Gerber he does not see City Hall as fighting Treasure. Leaders have left that to citizens, he said. At least one other audience member inquired about Treasure as well.

The mayor explained Treasure will not be put before the City Council as a result of earlier negotiations between the development partnership and a previous set of elected officials. Thomas maintained the decision rests with the Park City Planning Commission. The developers will decide how to proceed after a Planning Commission vote, he said. Thomas also said state laws are "very favorable to development" and the rights of property owners.

Other topics addressed at the Tuesday event included:

  • a desire for City Hall bus routes to stretch farther into neighborhoods. Gerber said expansion of routes, such as those in Park Meadows, will take place over the next five to 10 years. She also mentioned the availability of app-based information about the bus system. A separate question focused on the small number of riders on buses at many points of the year. Gerber said the bus system is designed as a "ski shuttle" rather than one that serves everyday commuters.
  • the prospects of Park City's tourism industry suffering based on the recent tightening of Utah's drunken driving law. The mayor said it is a "possibility" the tightening could impact tourism. He added there are other countries that have strict alcohol rules. The stricter law is not "the best thing" for marketing the state, Thomas said. Gerber added that Park City has great bars and transportation options. She said the tightening will not impact tourism as much as some fear.
  • the operations of the Sundance Film Festival in January. Gerber said City Hall needs to continue to discuss the operations with festival organizers and closely consider a Sundance setup on Main Street to ensure there is activity there. Thomas said the City Council supports Sundance and the "creative juices" of the festival.
  • the future use of Bonanza Flats if City Hall completes the conservation acquisition of the high-elevation tract of land in Wasatch County. An audience member, Michael Kaplan, mentioned the possibility of installing ski lifts to the land. Any move to put ski lifts there would be highly controversial since the land is desired for its value as open space. The mayor succinctly answered.

    "Next question," Thomas said, adding, "This is when I say 'Thanks for sharing.'"