Summit County Council questions whether it will meet requirements of controversial affordable housing bill |

Summit County Council questions whether it will meet requirements of controversial affordable housing bill

‘It will take substantial resources to pull off,’ says a Summit County councilor

The Summit County Courthouse.
Park Record file photo

The Summit County Council held its first discussion on Wednesday about how it plans to fulfill the requirements of a controversial bill passed at the end of the Utah legislative session that may take away some local land use control in Kimball Junction.

County staffers outlined the legal requirements of the robust bill, H.B. 462, which intends to address affordable housing and expands on other legislation that requires certain jurisdictions, like Summit County, to adopt a moderate-income housing plan as part of the General Plan and submit it for state approval – all before the end of the year.

After the bill’s passage in March, county staff said they anticipated challenges in complying with the law. On Wednesday, they echoed their concerns about deadlines imposed by the Legislature and how other county priorities will be impacted.

Pat Putt, the county’s community development director, as well as Jeff Jones, the county’s economic development and housing director, and Dave Thomas, the county’s chief civil attorney, told the County Council the effort would require immense work from the Planning Department staff and the Snyderville Basin Planning Commission.

H.B. 462 requires counties that created a transit district by Jan. 1 and have a hub in unincorporated areas serving more than four routes to create what is known as a Housing and Transit Reinvestment Zone, or HTRZ, at that hub — which is west of the Richins Building in Kimball Junction in Summit County’s case — by Dec. 31.

The zones were created by the state last year as a solution to the housing crisis by promoting mixed-use, multi-family and affordable housing developments within a certain radius of public transit stations. It also encourages the Utah Department of Transportation to prioritize certain projects because of the increased density. The legislation creates an affordable housing requirement for counties and gives them several strategies to choose from to promote the units and forces them to measure their progress.

If a county fails to create an HTRZ before the deadline, or if the state rejects the moderate-income housing plan, the county may not be eligible for state money to fund important transportation projects. It is unclear what the penalty for noncompliance would be or how long it lasts.

The effort requires county staff to zone the area after developing a formal plan while working under the time constraints of October and December deadlines, which will require several public hearings before the state can make a formal decision on the proposed plan.

“It will take substantial resources to pull off,” County Councilor Roger Armstrong said in a subsequent interview with The Park Record.

County warned that the lengthy, involved process could impact areas targeted in the work plan passed earlier this year. Armstrong said he doesn’t want the County Council to become distracted as it tries to achieve the goals they set, which require time and advanced planning, and feared it would create disarray.

County resources were reallocated in 2020, and to a lesser extent in 2021, in response to the coronavirus pandemic and Armstrong expressed concern that the county’s workflow would fall further behind if employees’ focus is shifted again.

County Manager Tom Fisher said staffers are considering dividing up the priorities so certain staff can focus on developing a moderate-income housing plan and HTRZ by the state’s deadlines. Fisher will meet with Armstrong and County Council Chair Chris Robinson at a later date to continue the discussion, but he said the longer the county waits to adopt a plan, the harder it will be to meet the time constraints.

Summit County already touches on around 10 of the 22 suggestions for affordable housing provided by the state, according to Armstrong. He said the county hasn’t resisted bringing affordable housing into the community and criticized the Utah Legislature for passing a bill with strict requirements and an “extreme deadline” at the end of the session.

He said the County Council hasn’t had the chance to speak with community members about what they want in terms of development and growth management, so it seems “backward” to develop a precise framework for the state. Armstrong suggested the county may choose to ignore deadlines and submit the proposal when it’s ready.

“We have most of the pieces in place, but can we formulate it into a plan by October?” Armstrong questioned. “What is the public value?”

Fisher said the county will make an honest effort in looking at the law and obeying it – if there is a way to comply. He praised the County Council for having the foresight to look at issues like water quality, which will help in developing the plan.

“The Legislature has put a task in front of us,” he said. “Now we have to figure out how to make all of this happen.”

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