Summit County Council candidates talk affordable housing and development
As Summit County continues to grow, how that development will be handled and where it should be located remains a hot-button issue for elected officials.
There are millions of square feet of commercial space already approved and waiting to be built in the Snyderville Basin and in the Canyons Village at Park City Mountain Resort. Additionally, as many as 1,300 homes are slated for the Silver Creek Village Center, with other projects in the Basin expected to create more.
Over-development and the shortage of deed-restricted housing is an ongoing issue for the community, causing many to plead with the elected officials to address it.
Summit County Council incumbent Glenn Wright and his challenger, Josh Mann, are taking different approaches on how to manage that future development.
Wright, a Democrat who is hoping to retain his seat, touted his experience serving on the Council for the last two years and dealing with development and housing issues firsthand. He also highlighted his roles with organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and Mountainlands Community Housing Trust.
Wright said development within the county has to be smart and located in the appropriate areas. He suggested Kimball Junction, the Canyons Village at Park City Mountain Resort and the area east of U.S. 40 near Home Depot as ideal spots.
“We need to put it around transportation nodes to create walkable villages,” he said. “They need to be places where people can live and not have to hop into their car for everything.”
Wright said the county has been discussing creating a mixed-use zone in the Snyderville Basin to allow for the development of commercial spaces within already-established neighborhoods. He advocated for a comprehensive transfer of development rights process, which the county does not currently have.
Through a mixed-use zone, Wright said the county could begin negotiating the affordable housing requirement developers would be subject to. He admitted mixed-use developments won’t be successful if people can’t afford to live in them.
“We need a lot more of that housing, but it has to be put in the right place,” he said. “We are not going to be building many single-family houses, though. It is going to be dense and we have to get used to that.”
Wright said a significant amount of housing has not been built over the last five to 10 years, which has partly led to an increase in home values. He added, “What has been here has been absorbed in the second-home market.”
“You have to build more,” he said. “But, slowing development is not the answer. Doing smart development and putting it where it needs to be is the answer.”
Mann also identified affordable housing and development as critical issues. He is mounting a write-in campaign as an independent, though, because he said it’s important for people who do not identify with one political party to have a seat at the table when the county makes decisions on such topics.
Mann agreed that development needs to occur in the appropriate locations. However, he disagreed on what some of those areas should be, particularly referencing the land near Home Depot.
“People think we should have another town center somewhere,” he said. “But, let’s put it in the Basin. Not by Home Depot. I think that would repeat the same mistakes we already have if we put something there and it doesn’t turn out how we think it could.”
Mann said there is a “fill-it-all-in mentality” that is controlling development and causing sprawl. He agreed the Canyons Village is an ideal location for development because it is already an established resort area. He also said Kimball Junction, which is already designed as a town center, is the right place for additional development.
But, he acknowledged the current problems facing the Kimball Junction area, including issues with traffic and layout of the buildings. He suggested finding ways to mitigate the issues and improve the area rather than focusing on building a new town center.
“I look at development around here and realize there were perhaps poor choices made many years ago that continue to haunt us and are making it very difficult for us now,” he said.
Mann said he is a firm believer in property rights. But, he said one tool developers are using to gain more density is the promise of affordable housing.
He said elected officials are then making short-term decisions on those promises that do more harm than good. He suggested a more cautious and less urgent approach to the affordable housing crisis that starts with the creation of deed-restricted apartments.
“I don’t want to trade short-term gains for long-term impacts,” he said. “Smart, affordable housing can be done in ways that allows us to manage it effectively. There is always a need for affordable homes. It is still a worthy cause. But, we need to find alternative ways to have transportation, which could help ease some of the affordable housing issues. Let’s make it easier to get here, live here and work here at the same time.”
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Buses, trains and gondolas doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, but they make up the transit alternatives for the mountain transportation system the Central Wasatch Commission is trying to create, mostly in the Cottonwood canyons.