Summit County officials meet to compare notes on vision for future growth
As new projects sprout up around Summit County, those tasked with directing and approving growth met Wednesday night to make sure their goals and interests are aligned.
The Snyderville Basin Planning Commission and County Council held a quarterly work session and discussed several issues affecting the area, including affordable housing, energy, landscaping and water conservation. The hourlong discussion ranged from specific recommendations to the philosophical underpinnings of what commissioners and councilors want to see around the county.
This was the first such meeting after the passage of the Kimball Junction Neighborhood Plan, which recommended the creation of a mixed-use neighborhood zone. Community Development Director Pat Putt has said neighborhood plans define the vision for an area, but the specifics of how it will take shape are determined in the zoning code.
“We’ve got our plan where we want it to be,” Putt said. “What are our tools going to be to implement that?”
Councilors were vocal about goals for future developments and discussed various incentives to help achieve them. Commissioners asked the Council to consider measures that would give them more latitude in making decisions, and stressed the important role planning documents play when a situation allows for interpretation.
Commissioners and councilors alike stressed the importance of workforce and affordable housing, with Council Chair Roger Armstrong noting the issue keeps getting worse in Summit County and around the country. He said the county may need to revisit and ramp up the affordable housing requirements for new developments.
Councilor Chris Robinson agreed, saying “requiring developers to add 20 percent (affordable housing) … that’s just keeping pace with the impact of new development, not really addressing any kind of need.”
Putt said a mixed-use neighborhood zone would be a tool the county could use to achieve various goals, including for housing. It could incentivize a developer to reduce impermeable pavement surfaces for parking and opt for underground parking by allowing greater building height, for example. Or it could offer greater density — more total units — in exchange for more affordable housing.
Armstrong pointed out some projects will be in the approval process for five years or longer, and the group discussed ways to speed that up. One idea was to allow projects that check certain boxes — like low energy use or being located near transit — to skip to the head of the line for approvals. They also discussed lessening the sting of some impact fees by stretching them out over time or waiving them altogether, though Armstrong noted that many of those fees correspond to real land costs and could not be adjusted.
Councilor Kim Carson cautioned against speeding up the process so much the end product suffers.
“We’ve got to still keep standards and not create a process that streamlines affordable housing to the point that we’re getting a product we don’t feel comfortable with,” she said. “We’ve got to pay attention to design.”
Planning Commissioner Joel Fine also spoke to the importance of neighborhood integration and the danger of stigmatizing people who live in affordable housing.
“We don’t want to put ‘them’ over ‘there,’” Fine said. “The goal should be that one neighbor doesn’t know if another is living in affordable housing.”
Sustainability is a theme throughout the Kimball Junction Neighborhood Plan, Putt said, and commissioners and councilors said it should be in any code amendment, as well. Armstrong advocated disincentivizing lawns in favor of less water-intensive landscaping.
“Wars are going to be fought over water in the next 20 years,” he said.
Carson said she’d be in favor of capping the size of buildings. She’s been vocal about the demands building size puts on community resources, including the number of service workers who will be tasked with maintaining it and will need a place to live.
“When you move from 10,000 to 20,000 square footage, it doesn’t just double energy usage, it does something like quadruple it,” Carson said. “Looking right now at climate change and our sustainability goals, we need to look at some sort of impact fee (for buildings) over a certain square footage.”
Planning Commissioner Canice Harte said the group welcomes tools that incentivize affordable housing, but noted it is rare the commission is able to use discretion.
“We don’t get a lot of latitude, we have to follow code. The vast majority of what we’re doing is, ‘Does it meet the rules?’” Harte said. “When we do have latitude, the tool we use to guide us is the general plan.”
He asked the Council to consider adopting sunset provisions in some of their development approvals that would give the Commission more flexibility to reexamine projects that have been approved in the past but no longer align with county values.
Ultimately, Harte said, land planners have to take the long view.
“We want to be proud of what’s left here in 50 years,” he said.
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