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Summit County expected to launch Community Planning Lab next year

People interested in learning about planning, land-use policy, decision-making encouraged to apply

Summit County Courthouse.
Park Record file photo

Summit County residents will soon be invited to learn about local planning and policy while helping shape the future of the community.

Planning Department staff on Wednesday shared an idea for a new concept, dubbed the Community Planning Lab, with the Summit County Council. The initiative strives to engage people who want to better understand the processes that drive executive decisions.

Community Development Director Pat Putt, county planner Madlyn McDonough, and Meghan Burrows, who’s affiliated with the University of Utah, expressed their excitement for the project, which they said is an opportunity for residents to become more involved starting in 2023.



“We have pretty big dreams for this Community Planning Lab and we’re trying to think really strategically about not only this first, inaugural class, but also future classes moving forward,” McDonough said. 

The 10-week course is expected to begin in mid-January and run until April. McDonough said the Planning Lab is interactive and it will be a hybrid format with in-person and online meetings via Zoom or Google Classroom.



Summit County community members who are interested in learning about planning, land-use policy and decision-making are encouraged to apply. Activities throughout the course may include presentations from experts in the field, site visits and final projects. Planning Department staffers want participants to “come away with an understanding of how planning helps shape our cities and towns and how engagement and participation in local affairs develop community,” according to a staff report from Wednesday’s meeting.

McDonough and Burrows interviewed stakeholders, including planners from Oakley and Francis, to learn what they’d be interested in discussing. Course topics will likely include the history of planning, how to effectively engage in public hearings, affordable housing, sustainable development, design, planning for growth, transportation, and more. 

Planning Department staffers also reviewed academic studies about community planning academies in other locations, such as Lakewood, Colorado and King George County, Virginia, to learn how the programs were run and what residents learned. Burrows said the initiative helps enhance engagement by empowering people to take part in decisions that have lasting impacts on their communities.

The goals of the Community Planning Lab are to increase the level of knowledge and understanding regarding planning, zoning and other county processes amongst community members and foster strong, intentional involvement throughout Summit County. The Planning Department said in a staff report it also wants to empower the community to take a more active role in shaping the future of their neighborhoods, understand the most pressing issues affecting the community and learn how they can make an effective change, connect advocates and leaders to tools and information, as well as promote regional collaboration.

“We think a community that has a better, deeper understanding of not only the issues, but the complexity of the issues, and the tools that are available to help manage some of the issues that we have, the better they become,” Putt said. “The more we lift them up in that knowledge, the better participation we’re going to have, the better feedback we’re going to have, and that result is more quality decision-making going into some of the policy and land-use decisions that we have.”

The Planning Department is asking for $10,000 in its budget to help pay for materials, speakers and fuel costs associated with the Community Planning Lab. This will allow community members to participate at no cost.

County Councilor Roger Armstrong praised the initiative as a leadership program that will help address planning needs through Summit County. He said it would also help educate the public about certain issues, such as residents asking for a development moratorium when it isn’t possible.

County Councilor Malena Stevens agreed. She said the Community Planning Lab gives power to the community and promotes regional collaboration. The initiative can also help meaningful information to be applied directly.

Staffers have already partnered with the University of Utah’s Department of City and Metropolitan Planning to conduct the Community Planning Lab and have drafted the curriculum’s framework.

A survey is located on the Planning Department’s website for people to sign up for more information about the program and how to get involved. Burrows and McDonough anticipate around 35 people will be accepted into the first class, but they’ve seen programs with as many as 50 participants. They plan to gauge interest before capping the number.

“I think ultimately, if we get enough people through this program, we’ll see less conflict when these issues come before the [County] Council and we have a more engaged and empowered citizenry that’s participating in that process … and giving good input in public hearings,” Janna Young, the interim county manager, said. 

Summit County


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