Pandemic, development shaped Summit County in 2020
Development discussions continued in a year shaped by the coronavirus pandemic
Even in a year dominated by the coronavirus pandemic, the recurring themes of development and growth remained important issues in Summit County, driving community conversations from Coalville to Hideout.
Here are the Top 5 stories that affected the county in 2020.
5. Wohali is approved
Capping a multi-year process, Coalville city councilors in December voted unanimously to approve a gated golf-course development on the city’s west side, paving the way for 125 homes, 303 nightly rental units and 27 holes of golf in a new luxury community called Wohali.
The community had largely been split on the issue, with public comment consistently and overwhelmingly opposing it and an opposition group effectively scuttling a larger version of the plan by pursuing a citizen referendum.
The council annexed the land into the city limits in 2018 after controversial public hearings opposed to the plan. The move effectively doubled the city’s size.
Resident concerns have centered around water issues, nightly rentals and density, but much of the public comment has focused on a feared “Park City-fication” of the rural East Side city.
The skyrocketing home values in and around Park City have spread in recent years into eastern Summit County, making it harder for families to stay in the area and children to remain in the community.
Wohali’s developers compared it to other similar developments in the area like Tuhaye Golf Club, Glenwild Golf Club and Spa and Promontory Park City.
The original application called for 570 homes and 130 nightly rentals, and the amenities like trails and a splash pad would not have been sequestered behind gates.
The new project is largely allowed by the land’s zoning, although the amount of nightly rental units remained controversial until the vote.
4. Kimball Junction development
Summit County officials have been working through an application that has the potential to reshape the western side of Kimball Junction, a large-scale residential project with some commercial aspects that could turn what is now undeveloped land into a new neighborhood.
The Snyderville Basin Planning Commission forwarded a negative recommendation to the County Council, which is now reviewing the plan.
The land is governed by a development agreement that restricted what can be built there to technology-related uses. After Silicon Slopes largely passed Summit County by, that agreement has had the effect of keeping the land undeveloped.
The proposal calls for about 1.25 million square feet of residences, a 120,000-square-foot hotel, community spaces and some small commercial opportunities. The developers have touted it as a transit-first project and have included some ambitious aspects like a gondola running overhead and bringing residents to the businesses on the east side of Kimball Junction, and an underground transit center that could serve as a node for the county’s proposed bus rapid transit system.
Commissioners who voted against the plan cited traffic concerns and a lack of affordable housing. County staffers appeared to support the project.
Residents have been split in public hearings, with a largely older crowd decrying development and urbanization while a younger-seeming contingent appeared to like the idea of more housing in the area.
The County Council is expected to gather public input before making a decision.
3. Schools forced to adapt
In a week last March, Summit County’s schools went from thousands of students packing the classrooms each day to sudden emptiness, after school shifted online to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The abrupt shift left parents, teachers and students dissatisfied with remote learning. Some parents were forced to scramble to find child care for children who were suddenly home all day, teachers had to adapt curriculums to online lessons they had never prepared before and students became disengaged from their peers and school communities.
This fall, state and local officials stated clearly their goal was to have students learn in schools and to avoid remote learning if possible. The Park City School District spent millions of dollars on COVID-related safety equipment like air purifiers, while Summit County doled out tens of thousands of dollars to the districts for personal protective equipment.
Still, the uneasy balance of this school year has given rise to groups who think more should be done to prevent the spread of COVID-19, like moving to remote learning or a hybrid model in certain instances.
In Park City, a group of teachers branched off to form a new teacher’s union after they say the Park City Education Association did not represent their concerns to the Board of Education.
Both the North Summit and South Summit school districts opted for truncated periods of preventive remote learning to ward off outbreaks, while the Park City School District has not.
In North Summit, Superintendent Jerre Holmes explained that the district decided to briefly move to remote learning after a quickly moving outbreak of the disease, even though schools remained under the state recommendation of closing when there are 15 positive cases.
South Summit implemented “preventive quarantine weeks” after Thanksgiving and winter breaks to ward off a potential outbreak stemming from family gatherings over the holidays.
That mirrored a suggestion from the state teacher’s union.
So far, Park City schools have stayed open, something officials say they hoped to achieve, but were not sure they would be able to.
Teachers have worried that they don’t have enough room in their classrooms to maintain social distance, and the state recently reduced the amount of time a student is required to quarantine if exposed to COVID-19. State guidelines also recently relaxed the quarantine rules for students who are exposed to the virus if both parties are wearing masks.
But the state Legislature has discussed bonus payments for teachers who teach students in person, with Gov. Gary Herbert calling them frontline workers.
And teachers will now be among the first to receive the vaccine, which could happen as early as January.
2. Hideout annexes Richardson Flat
The Summit County Attorney’s Office was busy this year crafting unprecedented regulations on businesses and individuals to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But starting in July, it had another giant project on its agenda: trying to stop Hideout’s attempt to annex hundreds of acres of Richardson Flat for development.
The small Wasatch County town eyed 655 acres for a new town center and mixed-use development that developers Nate Brockbank and Josh Romney intended to build. Before legislation state lawmakers passed and then repealed this year, Hideout would not have been able to annex the land without Summit County’s consent, and the county thought it was protected from such a move.
But one July evening, it became clear that had changed and the town announced its intentions to proceed, drawing the ire of Summit County, Park City and Wasatch County.
The governments, and many local residents, appeared outraged at the way the annexation was sought — with tailor-made legislation and without much public negotiation.
And while many Hideout residents appeared to echo that sentiment, they also appeared to want the kind of amenities the developers promised, like a grocery store and gas station.
Town officials said the development was necessary to provide services to the residents who live around the Jordanelle Reservoir — and the many who will move there shortly — who don’t have easy access to those services. It would also boost the town’s ability to generate income, which now comes primarily from property taxes and building permits rather than the more lucrative commercial tax revenue.
The approval process was unusual from the start, with a Zoom meeting failure that derailed the first attempt and nearly scuttled the entire project. The developer and his attorney negotiated major aspects of the project with the Town Council in marathon public meetings over the course of a week, trying to reach a deal before the window to annex the land closed.
And the entire project briefly appeared doomed until the developer advocated to let citizens have a say in a referendum. Residents likely would have pushed for a referendum if the measure passed anyway, but at least one councilor indicated they moved to support the annexation with the idea that it would ultimately be decided by residents in a vote.
The project has changed in the months since it was first introduced. Brockbank bought out his partner and reduced the size of the proposed annexation to 350 acres. He promised to build Hideout a new town hall, in addition to the residences and businesses included in the plan.
Hideout residents have organized a referendum effort that put the annexation on hold until they vote in a June election. Meanwhile, Summit County has sued the town and developer to try to stop the annexation with mixed success.
1. Virus hits Summit County
On the eve of the Sundance Film Festival last January, the virus that causes COVID-19 was entering the national conversation in the United States just as Park City was preparing to receive tens of thousands of visitors, many from other nations.
The first U.S. case was reported Jan. 21, but it was a Friday the 13th weeks later when everything changed in Summit County, and in Utah more broadly, as the virus that would come to shape reality more than anything else in 2020 started spreading here.
Summit County became the epicenter of the pandemic in Utah when the first case of community spread in the state was identified at a popular Main Street bar on March 13.
Health officials have since indicated it was a nightmare scenario — a bar on a Friday night and the person working the door who touches everybody’s identification was carrying a pandemic-causing virus.
County health officials acted quickly, shutting the bar that night, implementing contact tracing protocols with state partners and working to craft sweeping measures to slow the spread of the virus.
The stay-at-home order and mask mandate that came soon after pushed government interventions directly into people’s lives.
Some businesses struggled to comply with the orders, while others challenged them. Fitness centers and daycares, for example, have won changes to the regulations governing their industries.
But Summit County was largely spared the violence and protest that has accompanied public health measures elsewhere in the nation.
At the end of 2020, with the better part of a year of experience, Health Director Rich Bullough credits the early push to mandate mask wearing as one of the factors keeping case rates relatively low in Summit County compared to neighboring counties, as residents here have gotten used to wearing a mask in public.
As of Dec. 29, there have been more than 3,000 cases of COVID-19 among county residents, with members of vulnerable populations disproportionately affected. The pandemic has been here for more than nine months, but about 15% of the total cases have occurred in the last two weeks, according to county-supplied data.
More than 100 county residents have been hospitalized because of the virus, and five have died.
Those results, remarkably, are much better than in neighboring counties.
And in another remarkable development, officials expect the county to receive vaccinations to fight COVID-19 this week — less than a year after the virus arrived here. Park City Hospital has already begun to vaccinate its workers.
While officials say there is light at the end of the tunnel, the winter ahead appears to be bleak. According to state health data, 1,219 Utahns have died of the virus, and hospital capacity remains strained.
Still, more than 17,500 Utahns have received the vaccine, and it appears the early winter spike has slowed.
Mass vaccination likely won’t begin until April, officials have said.
The virus has polarized school communities and neighborhoods and appears certain to threaten municipal budgets and strain nonprofit resources for months to come.
Officials fear a post-Christmas spike similar to the one that has accompanied nearly every holiday this year, a grim antecedent to normally happy occasions.
So much more is now known about the virus and how to fight it than officials knew that March weekend when many people had been exposed in one of the busiest months of one of the busiest ski seasons ever.
The novel coronavirus, and government reaction to it, shaped the year in Summit County more than anything else.
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County residents are encouraged to take part in the memorial as a “national moment of unity and remembrance.”