Tech Center proposal given negative recommendation by Planning Commission
After a year of meetings, hearings and presentations about a large-scale development proposal at Kimball Junction, the Snyderville Basin Planning Commission forwarded a negative recommendation regarding the project to the Summit County Council Tuesday night.
That was likely welcome news to the large contingent of the public, including former elected officials, that has spoken out against the project, which they claim does not deliver enough benefit to the community to warrant relaxing standards that have thus far largely prevented development at the site.
In recent meetings, however, a younger-seeming crowd has welcomed the project, saying it would provide a much-needed boost to the local housing market.
Commissioners opposed to the proposal cited traffic concerns, a lack of community benefits and insufficient affordable housing in their denial. Commissioners who supported the project said the current Tech Center concept is not working for the community and that the proposal would likely be improved during the planning process
Commissioner Crystal Simons said that it represented a good chance to bring a sense of place to the undeveloped land and the general Kimball Junction area, which she said lacked soul.
Commissioners John Kucera, Joel Fine, Ryan Dickey, Canice Harte and Thomas Cooke opposed the Dakota Pacific Real Estate application to expand the uses on the Tech Center site while Simons and Malena Stevens supported it.
The proposal will go next to the County Council, which is the final land-use authority on the matter barring an appeal to the courts, but the proposal may well end up back at the Planning Commission after further public hearings. Stevens will likely begin a term on the County Council in January.
Developers are seeking to build a mostly residential project on the west side of S.R. 224, south of Walmart. Renderings show a series of multi-story buildings moving westward toward the undeveloped hillsides near the Utah Olympic Park with a hotel at the western edge.
The proposal covers 1.6 million square feet but includes only 19,000 square feet of commercial or retail space compared to 1.25 million square feet of housing. Project representatives have said they do not want to cannibalize the commercial interests on the east side of Kimball Junction across S.R. 224.
There is also a sizable portion of density set aside for a hotel, at 120,000 square feet, and for office uses, around double that number.
The land is governed by a 2008 development agreement that limits what can be built there to technology-related uses, but only one building has fit the bill in the intervening dozen years as Silicon Slopes has become solidly entrenched in the Wasatch Front.
Other than the Skullcandy headquarters, the two other buildings that have been built are the Park City Visitor’s Center and the 152-unit Liberty Peak apartment complex, which is located to the northwest.
The county has heard applications for various projects in the intervening years, but none have been constructed.
At Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners seemed to support similar goals for the area but disagreed about whether this project could deliver them.
Kucera, Harte, Cooke and Dickey said the affordable housing component, comprising some 335,400 square feet and 306 units, was lacking. They argued, variously, that the project would create as many or more jobs than the number of units, negating any appreciable reduction in the deficit of workforce housing in the area.
They also said that the affordable units may not actually be affordable for the kind of middle-class workers officials are trying to aid, like teachers or firefighters.
For units capped at 80% of the area median income, as 256 of the units would be, Harte said someone making more than $90,000 a year would be eligible to apply.
All commissioners seemed to agree that traffic was already a problem in the area.
“There’s no question our traffic problem gets worse faster if we approve the project,” Kucera said.
A common theme among opponents of the plan was that it did not benefit the community enough to warrant relaxing the development agreement, though commissioners appeared to agree that the Tech Center concept is not working.
“When I look at it, what a carrot we have, what a tool we have with the development agreement,” said Dickey, the commission chair, characterizing the process as a rare chance to plan land in the Snyderville Basin. “It’s a huge opportunity to make sure that the project that comes before you and you approve is the best project you can imagine coming in this spot that could possibly be profitable for the developer. That’s the project I’m looking to approve.”
He complimented and thanked the developer, and said he was confident Dakota Pacific Real Estate could deliver a great product. But he said virtually any developer could come in and build a profitable residential project at Kimball Junction, and that this project did not contain the sort of overwhelming benefit to warrant a positive recommendation.
Originally, the application included what developers called “aspirational” items, like an underground transit hub for an anticipated bus rapid transit system, gondola connections over S.R. 224 and other items. The developer stated from the beginning that it could not pay for those on its own and that it would require partnerships with state, local and possibly federal entities. As the application process proceeded, those items were removed, leading Cooke to comment that this was one of the few projects that had gotten worse as the process went forward.
The county received the application last August, and the proposal has been through multiple public hearings and numerous meetings. The developers thanked officials for the attention the project has received.
“We appreciate the thorough process we’ve gone through over the past year with members of the Snyderville Basin Planning Commission and the county planning staff. Our proposal today is improved thanks to the comments and feedback we received from commissioners, staff and members of the community. Moving ahead, we’re looking forward to presenting our plans to the Summit County Council in the near future,” said Jeff Gochnour, Dakota Pacific Real Estate director of development.
Simons and Stevens, in supporting the application to relax the development agreement and allow more uses on the land, said that the particulars of this project weren’t on the table, and that it would likely change as the process unfolded. They seemed more focused on whether allowing a mixed-use project on that site would be more beneficial to the community than continuing to restrict it as a Tech Center.
“Tonight I think the question is, ‘Do we want to open up our community to new generations of residents?’” Simons asked.
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