Affordable housing proposal receives less-than favorable review
County Council has concerns about building units near St. Luke’s
Last week, Habitat for Humanity of Summit and Wasatch counties’ proposal to build affordable housing on a one-acre lot near St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in the Silver Springs neighborhood received a less-than favorable review from the Summit County Council.
Shellie Barrus, executive director of Habitat for Humanity, and Cheryl Butler, who sits on the board of directors, went before the County Council to discuss the nonprofit organization’s request for a special exception to grant up to 10 units of affordable units near St. Luke’s. The property, located adjacent to the church, is in the rural residential zone. The allowed density in that zone is one unit per 20 acres on developable lands.
The matter was listed on the agenda as a work session item. No action was requested.
“This is an absolute perfect spot for affordable housing and we could not think of a better location,” Butler said. “We are respectfully asking you (County Council) to allow us to work with St. Luke’s to move on to the next step in the approval process. This is the very early stage of the whole overall permitting process.”
County Councilors, however, were less supportive of the proposal and feared the request would create a precedent for future zoning applications.
The request submitted to the planning department is to develop up to 10 units of single-family attached townhouses on the land adjacent to St. Luke’s parking lot. The three-bedroom units would be about 1,200 square feet.
“We want to do something good here,” Robinson said. “What I want to communicate to the neighborhood and those who live close is that we are not seeking to do any harm. We want to do some good.
“My personal hope is that at the end of the process if the council approves us doing something with the land, whatever is done, it will be something that the local neighborhood can be proud of,” he said. “We also want to do something for the community.”
More than a year ago, Habitat for Humanity began exploring properties in Summit and Wasatch counties to develop affordable housing. The organization’s desire is to make a greater impact on the affordable housing deficit. They typically builds one house a year.
County Council member Kim Carson said there is an overriding concern about creating a precedent by using the special exception to achieve the requested density. Carson said she has also received a letter from a nearby homeowner who is upset that “open space is being taken away from us.”
Ray Milliner, a Summit County planner, said staff shares the same concerns as Carson.
“Staff’s primary concerns revolve around process, precedent and compatibility,” Milliner said. “There isn’t a good process in our code right now to do this. Specially Planned Area regulations, which is the process they would normally go through, are only allowed in certain zones. They are not allowed in the rural residential zone.”
Chief Civil Deputy Attorney Dave Thomas said the creation of the special exception was not intended to replace a rezone.
“Zone districts are there for a purpose and special exceptions are generally only used for configuration problems. This would be significant change to how the special exception is used,” Thomas said.
County Council member Roger Armstrong said allowing this request could potentially create spot zoning.
“We would be taking one resident and giving them rights that others don’t have. The special exception has never been used before for a zoning matter,” Armstrong said.
While Armstrong acknowledged the county’s need to address the affordable housing shortage, he said “it’s the wrong zone and it’s not entitled for what they want to use it for.”
“Sometimes it just doesn’t fit. Sometimes you may be able to meet a need, but doing so doesn’t conform to the zoning or the law,” he said. “While it would be nice to meet the need, if we did that on a property-by-property basis, we would have lawsuits everywhere because we would be spot zoning and giving different rights than what they are entitled to.”
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