Opinions split at public hearing on massive Kimball Junction development
Council says there’s a long way to go before approval
For nearly three hours Wednesday night, the Summit County Council heard from members of the public about the proposal to build a massive new neighborhood at Kimball Junction, and the two dozen commenters were almost evenly split between supporters and opponents.
While nearly everyone — elected officials included — appeared to agree that the county needs more affordable housing, there was little consensus among the commenters as to whether the proposal benefits the community enough to essentially allow more than 1 million square feet of new development.
The council did not vote and indicated that the issue was a long way from being decided.
Dakota Pacific Real Estate is seeking to build a large-scale residential neighborhood on the southwest side of Kimball Junction at a site that is restricted to technology-related uses.
Project supporters talked about the need for housing in the area and hoped the project would provide the means for more workers to be able to live in the county.
One commenter said he commuted from the Salt Lake Valley to teach at Ecker Hill Middle School.
“My perspective as a commuting teacher, and several of my colleagues that live outside Summit County that would love to have a place to live here, I just think that this could provide more opportunities for some of our school teachers in the Park City School District to find a place to live within the community where they teach,” said Jesse Curtis.
Proponents lauded the proposal as an example of “smart growth,” as it would be located near a transit center and promotes walkability and bikeability. The site is also close to the businesses in the greater Kimball Junction area.
Multiple small business owners also talked about the benefits of hiring people who live locally and that increasing the number of people who live at Kimball Junction would help businesses there.
Opponents of the proposal, meanwhile, cited concerns with traffic and the size of the project, and claimed that it would hasten growth in an already congested area. They also contended the proposal does not include enough community benefits.
One said the size of the project — some 1,100 residences — “turns my stomach,” while several others urged the county to continue to negotiate for more amenities for the general public.
“Please do not give up the leverage of the existing agreement without a significant identified community benefit that we can all see, hold and touch,” said commenter Nicholas Schapper.
The agreement Schapper referenced is a 2008 contract that restricts what can be built on the site to offices with technology-related uses and smaller support businesses, like a place for employees to get lunch.
Officials at the time envisioned a technology park that would diversify the area’s tourism-based economy, keep the hillsides from development and protect open space.
The development agreement remains in effect and has essentially kept the site free from development, as many tech businesses settled instead along the Wasatch Front.
The developer and landowner, Dakota Pacific Real Estate, is seeking to relax the rules governing what can be built on the land. Instead of a tech park with more than 1 million square feet of office space, Dakota Pacific wants to build more than 1 million square feet of residences — mostly rentals — as well as a hotel and some other commercial spaces.
The public hearing was the first at the County Council level, which has final land-use authority. The Snyderville Basin Planning Commission held several public hearings and forwarded a negative recommendation to the County Council.
Former County Commissioner Bob Richer advised the council to keep denying the plan until the developer asks to renegotiate the entire development agreement, which would allow the county to ask for more in the way of community benefits.
“If you approve the use change now, you’ve taken a significant step towards locking in the square footage and you lose significant leverage,” Richer told the council.
As an incentive to allow for residential uses, Dakota Pacific is proposing to build hundreds of affordable housing units aimed at those making 80% or less of the area median income, which in 2020 was just shy of $64,000 for one person. In addition to those 256 units, another 50 are earmarked for those making up to 120% of the area median income.
The county has a significant year-over-year housing shortage and needs additional units in many price categories both for rent and to own and the developers have indicated the housing itself benefits the community.
A contingent of longtime locals who have experience in development processes, including Richer and fellow former County Commissioner Sally Elliott, opposed the project.
Elliott focused on the harm it would do to the effort to diversify the local economy that is almost entirely dependent on tourism.
“When we try to ski those white ribbons of man-made death on our ski resorts, we realize that the climate is changing our whole construction of our community. We will not forever be an amazing ski resort. We will not forever have amazing snow. So I say please vote no,” Elliott said. “… This is our last opportunity to develop infrastructure for new kinds of jobs to change our community.”
After nearly three hours of comment, and nearly a year and a half after the developer first submitted an application for the project, members of the council indicated the proposal was still far from something they would approve.
Councilor Roger Armstrong said he would not vote for what the developer was asking — to amend the list of acceptable uses on the land — without considering the development agreement more broadly.
He further indicated the project would have to clear a high bar to earn his support.
He said it would need to include things the county does not have the money or land to accomplish on its own, indicating projects that target county sustainability, mass transit or affordable housing goals.
Councilor Malena Stevens voted for the project when she was a Snyderville Basin planning commissioner. She indicated that she supported the proposal because of what it could become, and indicated it still had the potential to achieve those ends.
Councilor Doug Clyde indicated he would negotiate with the developer and took issue with some of the design elements of the project, referring to the plan as “incipient” and “a bunch of boxes scattered on a grid.”
Chair Glenn Wright indicated there might be a way for the developer to get to a “yes” from the council and cited specific areas he would push in negotiations, including sustainable building and using the developer’s political clout to advocate for state funding for Kimball Junction road improvements.
“We have a lot of discussions ahead of us with the developer,” Wright said.
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