Development on East Side, West Side growing concern for Summit County Council candidates
County Democratic Party to select replacement for Doug Clyde on Saturday
Summit County Democrats on Saturday will elect the latest – and final – member to the county’s governing board, less than one month after Doug Clyde’s retirement.
The East Side Democrat left the Summit County Council on Nov. 2, kicking off a process for the political party to appoint either Snyderville Basin Planning Commissioner Thomas Cooke or Coalville City Planning Commissioner Tonja Blonquist Hanson to fill the remainder of Clyde’s term.
The Democratic Party’s central committee, made up of more than 100 delegates, will gather at Ecker Hill Middle School to meet with the candidates, ask questions and select a replacement. The top vote-getter will occupy the County Council seat until the term expires in 2025.
Cooke and Hanson each said they have been working hard to prepare for Saturday, including speaking with precinct delegates, elected officials and others. They agree it has provided them an opportunity to listen and learn about community concerns they might not have considered.
The candidates acknowledged they likely share many of the same opinions on various issues, as both have experience serving on planning commissions in Summit County. Topics such as traffic, affordable housing, regional collaboration and development are key focuses for Cooke and Hanson.
But Cooke, a nearly 30-year resident of Park City, and Hanson, who was born and raised in Coalville, expect to be somewhat different in their approach – or where it’s centered.
Cooke has served nearly six years on the Snyderville Basin Planning Commission and has lived in Silver Summit since 2001. While working on projects such as the development proposed at the Tech Center site in Kimball Junction, known as Dakota Pacific, Cooke said he realized the impacts of growth will affect the West Side sooner than the rest of the county.
“I think the next two years for the greater Park City area and what happens at Kimball Junction are going to be profound in the future of what the county looks like,” Cooke said. “To me, having that experience for the last five years on the Planning Commission here would be an asset to the community.”
Meanwhile, Hanson, a fifth-generation Summit County resident, has a different view. She has concerns about how the East Side will be represented without someone from that side of the county on the panel. Clyde was the only member of the current County Council to live in Eastern Summit County and his departure inspired Hanson to run for the vacant seat.
“Development is coming fast and furious all over the county and I’m not sure residents are aware of what’s happening,” she said. “They’re focusing on their area, which is important to do … but the amount of development that is coming to the East Side is really frightening. The numbers I’m hearing, the expectation for the future is that in the next 15 to 20 years, the population of the East Side of the county will be larger than the Snyderville Basin.”
Hanson continued, “What are the impacts of that? If you stop and think about that, you think traffic’s bad now going from Kamas to Park City. Well, wait until all of those people are moving to Kamas. Not to mention what’s happening in Wasatch County around the Jordanelle and what that impact will be. That’s going to be the biggest impact on our quality of life, is the development that’s coming our way.”
That’s why Hanson wants to provide a voice for the citizens of the East Side. She said it’s important people feel like they have someone they know personally or can call and someone who understands their way of life and points of view.
“I think it’s really important for all citizens to feel like they have fair representation,” Hanson said. “It’s not about east versus west in any way, because we, as a county, are all in this together.”
Cooke expressed empathy for the East Side about the number of “Park City people” on the County Council, but said there is more to consider about a candidate than their address. He said the County Council should, at some point, consider designating certain seats based on population or region rather than continue to keep all five at-large.
If elected, Cooke plans to connect with the East Side and listen to their concerns. His No. 1 priority, he said, is becoming involved in the county’s community engagement plan to determine the community’s core values, which will drive future decision-making. He also wants to amend the county’s General Plan as it hasn’t received major updates since 2015.
“I have a personal belief that if we have a General Plan that even allows to the table projects like Dakota Pacific, which so many members of the public are vehemently opposed to, then there’s a problem with our plan. We shouldn’t be spending 18 months reviewing a project that nobody wants – and that’s a planning problem,” Cooke said.
He also noted feeling a disconnect between the County Council and the Planning Commission. Cooke said the panel was asked to fix the planning code in 2019 and a subcommittee spent the summer reworking it, hosted a public hearing, provided a recommendation and forwarded it to the County Council. Nothing ever happened with the draft, until last week when the Planning Commission held a work session to re-review the code and the panel was provided the document, according to Cooke.
“There’s a little bit of this circular firing squad where we get asked to do things,” he said, adding that the coronavirus pandemic and Dakota Pacific project contributed to the delays. “We have to be able to do more than one or two things at the same time. I give our current council a lot of credit because there is always the foreseen … but I also think that when we set out to do something, we have to see it all the way through to the finish line.”
Hanson said she’s been attending the County Council meetings since Clyde announced his plans to step down, which have provided her with insight into how members interact. She appreciates the thoughtful input from Clyde and outgoing County Councilor Glenn Wright, who did not run for reelection. Democrat Canice Harte, a former Snyderville Basin Planning Commissioner, is poised to win election to Wright’s seat.
If chosen as Clyde’s replacement, Hanson looks forward to bringing new ideas and a fresh perspective to the council, she said. She is striving to continue Clyde’s work on water quantity and quality. She also wants to address affordable housing for the senior population and plans to consider constituents’ concerns.
The Democratic Party central committee meeting is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Saturday. Voting will begin online shortly after and will remain open until midnight. Katy Ownes, the party chair, anticipates the winner will be announced the following day. The County Council must then confirm the replacement.
Hanson was scheduled to be sworn in during a special County Council meeting on Tuesday. After she’s confirmed, Hanson anticipates a warm welcome and a full workload.
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