Tech Center development debate comes into focus |

Tech Center development debate comes into focus

Public opposition has sharpened in recent weeks

Developers are asking the Summit County Council to allow a large-scale residential project on undeveloped land at Kimball Junction west of S.R. 224.
Courtesy of Dakota Pacific Real Estate

The proposal to build a new neighborhood at Kimball Junction has received renewed attention in recent weeks as critics have inundated the Summit County Council with hundreds of emails and launched a petition opposing the plan.

Opponents decry the impacts a large-scale residential development would bring to an already congested area and claim the project has little upside.

Proponents, including some members of the County Council, see the project as a path to fixing traffic issues plaguing the area.

The developer, Dakota Pacific Real Estate, wants to build 1,100 homes, a hotel, office buildings and commercial space at the southwest corner of Kimball Junction. That would require changing a 2008 contract that limits what can be built there to mostly tech-related office buildings.

In an informal straw poll at a County Council meeting this summer, four of the five councilors supported the plan in concept, with Roger Armstrong dissenting.

A subcommittee of county councilors and county staffers have met with the developer behind closed doors since the project was last discussed publicly in August. It reemerged Wednesday night as the council and county officials discussed for more than two hours the contents of the plan and how to move forward.

No vote was taken and a public hearing that was scheduled for Nov. 17 has been postponed. Officials indicated they would once again seek public input when negotiations with the developer have produced a finished concept.

Despite objections from the crowd — roughly 10 people attended in person and 64 watched online, according to a county official — the council did not allow the public to speak about the proposal.

“It’s shut up or leave,” County Council Chair Glenn Wright said at one point after crowd members engaged in a back-and-forth with officials and shouted comments.

The council has wide latitude to accept or reject the plan. If they decline the application, the previous development agreement that restricts the use of the land would remain in place.

Traffic concerns have played a central role in negotiations, with solutions complicated by their reliance on the Utah Department of Transportation, which neither the county nor the developer can compel to act.

Earlier this year, officials identified a preferred fix for Kimball Junction: a costly UDOT proposal to bury a stretch of S.R. 224 and create dedicated lanes to connect the roadway to Interstate 80. It would separate the local traffic moving around Kimball Junction — about half of the current trips in the area — from commuters and ski traffic heading to and from the interstate.

A multi-million dollar environmental assessment for that project was included in state legislation this year, apparently at the behest of Dakota Pacific. But the total project is expected to cost well into the hundreds of millions of dollars, and is not included in UDOT funding plans for the next decade.

The county would aim to use the increased tax revenue generated by the Dakota Pacific project in addition to other funding sources — including up to $14 million in a voluntary assessment the developer has agreed to — as well as the developer’s political clout, to advance the UDOT project faster than it otherwise would proceed.

Armstrong on Wednesday asked whether the project approval could be contingent on securing funding or UDOT constructing the traffic fixes.

The CEO of Dakota Pacific Real Estate, Marc Stanworth, said infrastructure costs make it financially impossible to phase the project that way.

“We can’t justify putting in tens of millions of dollars in horizontal infrastructure and not know whether or not we have a project to build behind it,” he said.

There was little debate about the proposed first phase of the project, an 85,000-square-foot medical office building. That appears to be allowed under the current development agreement, though no formal approval has been granted.

The second phase, however, was less settled. Dakota Pacific is proposing 535 market-rate units and 229 affordable units, something County Councilor Chris Robinson referred to as 2/3 of the entire project.

Councilors questioned allowing a project of that scale without a guarantee for the transportation projects.

“I believe in hope, but it’s not a great strategy,” Robinson said. “But we have concrete strategy that allows us to solve the transportation problems, that is one of the big remedies or community benefits of this project. If that is ephemeral, if that is ethereal, nonexistent, a wish, a hope, then we have failed.”

Wright also gave two conditions for his support: that no units be allowed to serve as nightly rentals and that the buildings be constructed as all-electric so they can be powered by renewable energy.

Dakota Pacific appeared amenable to those changes.

Robinson summed up the decision the council faces.

“If the status quo is preferred, which is to leave this as a slow-track tech park and leave to chance when UDOT gets around to doing something to fix the traffic, and not address the affordable housing elements in here — that’s one choice,” he said. “The other choice is to use this as a catalyst to change the Kimball Junction neighborhood, to add affordable housing and to really fix — with UDOT’s help and with some federal help and with the developer’s help through these different mechanisms — the transportation and the transit.”

When the Tech Center agreement was negotiated in the mid 2000s, it was thought it would help diversify the local economy and keep development off the hillsides near the Utah Olympic Park. Only three projects have since been built there, other than support infrastructure: a contractually mandated affordable housing complex, the Liberty Peak Apartments; the Skullcandy headquarters and the Park City Visitor’s Center.

Detractors of the proposed project have focused on the traffic the project will create, as well as the impact of adding possibly 3,000 new residents to an already congested area. Some also question the abandonment of a chief goal of the previous agreement — diversifying the local economy. And some see the slow buildout of the Tech Center as good in itself, keeping the land relatively free of development.

Proponents of the plan, including to some degree four of the five county councilors, see the project as a catalyst for fixing the traffic problems at Kimball Junction, an improvement compared to the already approved office park and a step toward establishing a neighborhood feel at Kimball Junction.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Park City and Summit County make the Park Record's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.