Tom Clyde: Too soon for Tabiona?
I used to think that Park City, by which I mean western Summit County rather than the technical municipal boundaries, was 50 square miles completely surrounded by reality. I first heard that said of San Francisco, but it fits equally well here. But like San Francisco, the unreality has spread. The rest of Summit County is also something of an aberration in Utah.
The Park City numbers point to a lot of objectively measurable differences between Park City and the rest of Utah: Significantly higher median household income, absurdly high housing prices, city and county budgets made fat with sales tax money paid by visitors. There are higher costs for water and sewer services. city and county governments are able to hire talented grant writers who pursue federal funding for transit and other programs tenaciously.
There is a divergence in the community between the very wealthy and the people who cook and clean for them. As housing gets more expensive, the people in the middle are getting displaced, so the gap widens. It’s not a formula for a healthy community long term, and nobody knows how to fix that. Aspen, Sun Valley, Jackson, and other ski towns show the same pattern, and though they have been at it longer than us, they aren’t any closer to finding solutions.
The consistent pattern is that the middle class, being priced out of the resort town itself, moves to the “next town over.” Right now, the hottest “next town over” is Francis. Francis has been so small that you probably don’t know where it is, even if you drive through it. Pound for pound, it’s among the fastest growing towns in the state.
I took a tour of Francis the other day when road construction diverted my bike ride. I explored the subdivisions on the west side of Francis. Some were there before the 2008 recession. They sat largely dormant for a long time, but are in full eruption now. I was stunned. These are big houses, and though comparative bargains compared to Park City, they carry big price tags. In the older subdivisions, the norm was a two-car garage with outdoor parking for another vehicle. The middle range standard was a three-car garage. In the newest developments, the substantial houses have a three-car attached garage, with a barn in the back yard designed to house a few more oversized vehicles.
Summit County residents are toy-intense people, and the new houses in Francis provide enclosed storage for boats, motorhomes, snowmobiles, horse trailers, and whatever else needs a place to be in the off season. A generation ago, everybody in Francis was scratching out a living on small dairy farms. Nobody needed boat storage, but there wasn’t a lake next door until Jordanelle was built in the 1990s.
That sent me looking at the statistics on Summit County’s “next towns over.” That exposed the difficulty of statistics. Woodland, where I live, turns out to have the 16th highest per-capita income in the state for the year that was summarized. Woodland is also small enough that we all know each other’s business. What put Woodland near the top of per-capita income is one family who sold some property for a huge payout, divided by very few capita who live in Woodland. Median household income is about average for the state. So don’t believe everything you see, especially when backed up with hard numbers.
Francis ranks 70th out of 289 Utah places in terms of per-capita income, which is pretty impressive considering that a third of its population is children under 18, who aren’t producing income. Median household income puts it right there with the Salt Lake suburbs. Oakley, another next town over, ranked 33rd on the per-capita income, and even higher on the median household income. Hideout is too new to show up in the reporting yet.
Relying on observation rather than statistics is equally unreliable. But in pricing the houses in Francis, and looking at a few sales in my immediate neighborhood (an extremely small sample), it became clear that I have moved from the frontier to the high rent district without leaving the house. Applying any normal lending ratio to the value of the lot and the value of my house, it’s inescapable: My house is a teardown.
There’s nothing wrong with the house other than a couple of carpet seams patched with duct tape. But anybody paying what the lot underneath it is worth would start out by taking a track hoe to the house. I plan on living here until I’m dead, but it’s hard to find much enthusiasm for a bathroom or kitchen remodel that somebody will scrape off.
Where do we go from here, when my house on a dirt road with dubious utility service is too expensive? The next next town over puts you across Wolf Creek Pass into Tabiona, where the per-capita income is $8,600, a tenth of Snyderville, and No. 276 out of 289 Utah communities. Too early?