Basin affordable housing proposal gets negative recommendation
Commissioners reject planned apartment complex near Highland Estates
The Snyderville Basin Planning Commission on Tuesday seemed to agree with the overwhelming negative sentiment it heard at its previous meeting regarding a proposed 27-building apartment complex, unanimously declaring that the project does not belong across the road from the Highland Estates neighborhood.
The commission forwarded a negative recommendation to the Summit County Council, which will have the final say on the project, barring an appeal to district court.
The developers are seeking to build an apartment complex with 27 buildings housing 410 units on 41 acres abutting the Interstate 80-U.S. 40 interchange. The land is directly across Highland Drive from the Highland Estates subdivision, which almost exclusively features single-family homes.
The developer, a partnership between Breen Homes and Colmena Group, acknowledged from the start of the public process that it would be challenging to win approval, as any new density in the Snyderville Basin must provide a compelling public benefit that cannot be brought about another way.
The developer hoped that the project’s significant affordable housing component could satisfy that requirement because it would offer housing for the lowest cost of almost any proposal heard in recent years.
More than 1/3 of the units would be deed-restricted affordable housing for those making less than $64,000 a year and 80% of the units would be deed restricted to people who live and work in Summit County and earn a certain percentage of the area’s median income.
While planning commissioners lauded that aspect of the project — especially the apartments that would be offered to people making a liftie’s wage — they panned the proposed location.
“I could not think of a worse place to put the development,” Commissioner Chris Conabee said. “… The need that you’re approaching and what you’re doing I think is so spot-on that that’s why you’ve gotten as far as you have.”
He asked county staff to work with the applicant to find a more suitable location for the project.
In the county’s planning documents, the land is specifically earmarked for very low density or open space. Its current zoning would allow two houses to be built, rather than the 410 apartments proposed.
Commissioners cited those future plans in their rejection. Commissioner Thomas Cooke said, if given enough time, he could probably find a dozen ways the development proposal violates the Snyderville Basin General Plan, which is used as a visioning document to guide growth and can be a legal foundation if decisions are appealed.
The neighborhood’s description in that plan identifies such goals as preserving the existing residential character and reinforcing the use of detached single-family homes.
The first reason commissioners identified for rejecting the proposal was that it didn’t provide a public benefit that warranted approving new density.
“We have to be convinced … that the affordable housing cannot be achieved any other way,” Cooke said. “And we just simply know that’s not the case.”
Commissioners also said the project does not fit with the Highland Estates neighborhood plan, nor the county’s future land use map for the area, and that it doesn’t comply with the overall goals of the general plan.
The overwhelming public opposition to the plan might have set a record, the commission’s chair said after the Feb. 23 hearing. Nearly 50 people spoke to oppose the plan, mostly focusing on the development’s impacts on traffic, schools and infrastructure. But others claimed the proposal did not meet the county’s plans for the area, arguments that the planning commissioners echoed in their denial.
The developers, however, seemed undeterred. The team was represented by a new attorney on Tuesday, a development veteran who said the team was confident it would secure approval from the County Council.
He asked the commission to render its opinion that night, apparently in a bid to get the project before the council as quickly as possible.
In a prepared statement released after the negative recommendation, the developers specifically appealed to the general plan’s language, saying three times their proposal included “compelling” public benefits. It also said that the need for affordable housing “outweighs neighbors’ objections, many of which can be addressed with smart planning.”
“If not at this location, which provides preferable (U.S. 40) access, public transit assets, contiguous developable property with favorable topography, then where?” said development partner Lance Bullen in the prepared statement. “It would be a travesty if the voices of a few drown out the need articulated by so many.”
Adam Breen, another development partner, put a finer point on the developers’ request that county officials disregard public opposition.
“We understand that neighbors will always be resistant to affordable housing no matter where it is proposed, and it’s unfortunate that they want to close the door behind them and prevent those who serve the community from living here,” Breen said in the prepared statement. “Fears about an increase in crime, overcrowding schools, and a threat to property values are completely unfounded. Local leaders claim housing for workers is a priority, yet they have done little to facilitate it. We are offering a viable solution with rentals that create a pathway for home ownership and greater socioeconomic diversity for a more sustainable community. Our team is looking forward to working with Summit County Council to bring our vision to the community.”
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