Summit County Council readies to tackle dynamic issues in 2023 following retreat
Housing and transportation key concerns, but officials seek ‘boots on the ground’ feedback from public in visioning project
Weeks after inducting a new Summit County Council, members met on Friday for the annual retreat to usher in fresh perspectives and gain focus on the dynamic issues they hope to tackle throughout the year.
The one-day retreat, held at the South Summit County Services Building, was shorter than in previous years, but county staffers were well-prepared to discuss the key topics ranging from policies about growth management and regional planning to strategies targeting transportation, housing and environmental stewardship.
The discussions allow the County Courthouse to dig deeper into the issues Summit County is facing while ensuring the County Council – and community – is in alignment with the priorities.
Staffers from various county departments, such as economic development and transit, provided an outline of what worked well for them last year and presented where they are heading for 2023 and beyond. They can also learn what the County Council thinks the departments’ focuses should be – in addition to what the group is curious about – as well as whether they are going in the right direction.
The County Courthouse will then input the information and feedback into this year’s work plan, which will organize staffers and the County Council around the dedicated issues.
Roger Armstrong, who was recently elected chair of the County Council, said the group was able to accomplish a lot at the retreat despite having less time.
Staffers spent time shifting policies about land use to be more rooted in growth management, specifically the need to be intentional. The county is also focused on utilizing the entire region and has tried to be intentional about where developments are going, County Councilor Malena Stevens, the vice-chair, said.
“Whether it’s affordable housing, traffic and congestion, open space, other connectivity, it’s all this interrelated ball that we’re looking at really consistently,” she said. “When we move pieces, are we moving in a direction that’s helping most of those things or are we not? So as we make decisions we really want to focus on that growth management piece, but also look at how this is impacting our neighbors – because what they’re doing impacts us.”
For Armstrong, housing is a top concern – and a complex issue.
He said there’s a misconception at the state level that some counties don’t want to build affordable housing, causing legislators to intervene. Armstrong, however, pointed to the affordable housing project in Canyons Village, where a third building just received a certificate of occupancy and the number of units could increase to more than 500.
“We’re trying to crack that narrative and make sure they understand we are actually doing this. Now, we’re going to dive down deeper and figure out public-private partnerships, whether they’re possible, and how we allocate employees and critical workers, where we locate and if we need to change the zoning to accommodate that. That I think is what staff is going to cook, but the critical piece within that is factoring in the notion of growth,” Armstrong said.
He continued that every unit of affordable housing that is built could someday lead to more people living in the county, although growth would likely be lateral in the beginning. Armstrong noted that it could also be difficult for developers to build with the region’s high area median income.
Interim County Manager Janna Young said county staffers want to help set targets for affordable housing that will allow Summit County to stay ahead of the curve. Data presented at the retreat indicated Summit County needs to create 800 units over the next five years to keep up with an estimated 7,500 jobs that will be created.
The County Courthouse is also seeking guidance in unincorporated areas as a lack of infrastructure causes challenges. Stevens expects officials to collaborate with East Side communities about where density should go.
The County Council agreed the principles of the General Plan are still valid, but asked staffers for more concepts related to growth mitigation to be included. It would take population and infrastructure into account to ensure the location of future developments makes sense, Young said. Staffers also identified areas that already exist in the development code that the County Council wanted to examine further, such as Policy 2.3, which states new entitlements must have a “compelling countervailing public interest.”
While the County Courthouse considers its priorities for this year, it’s also waiting for the public to participate in a community visioning process that will help tailor officials’ undertakings to the community’s chief concerns.
Over the next year, the Our Summit Visioning Project intends to gather public input to create a strategic, long-term plan that will help guide the community’s future decisions and plans. Armstrong said the visioning plan is important because it gives officials insight into the public’s attitude and shapes how the county will address the issues.
“We don’t really know where we are today. Because of the pandemic, we have a massive influx of new residents,” he said. “We need to know what kinds of additional impacts are driving behaviors and activities that people are concerned about, and most importantly, the impacts that have come with all of that so we can address it. That’s going to be critical.”
Armstrong continued, “And that overrides almost everything we’re doing here. It doesn’t mean that we stop and hang out for a year while this is completely cooked through and we get results, but it does mean that we make sure we follow a good public process.”
The first phase of the Our Summit Visioning Project kicked off on Jan. 17 with a presentation and two other events are scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. on Jan. 26 and Feb. 7 at the Richins Building and the Kamas branch of the Summit County Library.
Other discussions at the retreat surrounded recreation; trails and open space; active transportation, such as bicycling and walking; as well as solid waste. Topics like building a complete community from birth to grave and long-term strategic planning will be teased out in future work sessions.
Young plans to meet with staffers afterward to compile a list of action items. She anticipates the 2023 work plan will be released in February.
Although PEG’s application has been withdrawn, Vail’s development rights remain.
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