Tom Clyde: Coalville should tread lightly with annexation
Just when I think we’ve seen it all, and that there is nothing left out there that could be surprising, a meteor unexpectedly drops in the soup. Coalville City has just annexed 1,700 acres of ranch land west of town, and begun the planning process for a gated golf course community of 500 luxury homes. The proposed homes would range from about $800,000 to $4.5 million, or about $1,000 a square foot. The developer was quoted in the paper as saying, “It would be a very gradual build out.” Ya think?
The community was not enthusiastic about it. In a very well attended hearing, there were lots of objections to the notion of a “Park City” style gated community getting plopped down on Coalville. The fear is that it would ruin the small town atmosphere of Coalville. It will certainly change things up. Denise’s Home Plate could be serving escargot before this is done.
While the rest of Summit County has seen rapid growth, with all the good and bad that goes with it, Coalville has remained untouched. It’s got an appealing Main Street. I love to stop in at the Summit Merc, which is a classic small town general store. There’s a new barbecue place. But there’s not a whole lot happening commercially. It’s an iconic western landscape. During the coal mining days, Coalville had some real wealth and there are beautiful historic homes in town. Echo Reservoir is in the back yard and the Weber River runs through the valley. It’s an easy commute to Park City and tolerable to Salt Lake. Theoretically, it’s got the total package: scenery, charm, convenient access, recreation. But for some reason, the growth that has defined and besieged the rest of the county has taken a pass on Coalville.
My guess is that most of you have never been there, or if you have, it was some unwanted and annoying errand at the Courthouse — registering your car, or racing a property tax payment in before the deadline — and your only reaction was “why isn’t the County Seat in Park City?” That’s a 100-year old question. Coalville has sat there, unmolested. Not much has changed in 50 years, and a lot of the people who live there are just fine with that.
It’s hard to know what a development proposal like this will do to Coalville. First off, given the lack of development interest there through the years, it seems like a long shot. Assuming it actually works, it will make a difference. If the median house price in the development is $2 million, and there are 500 of them, that’s a billion dollar tax base. The total property tax levy is around 1% of market value, or $10 million a year. Roughly half of that goes to the schools (the state takes a cut), with around a quarter to the County and service districts, and a quarter to the City. That’s real money. A town the size of Coalville could do a lot with $2.5 million bucks a year.
The gated community is obnoxious in a lot of ways, but the City would not be plowing their snow or providing much by way of public services inside the gates. The homes are likely to be vacation homes, taxed at the commercial rate, without kids in the local schools. Whether the owners ever venture outside the gates to buy dinner in town, instead of at the clubhouse, or shop at the Summit Merc, would depend a lot on the creativity of the businesses in Coalville. My guess is the owner of the $5 million home is more likely to drive to Park City for dinner than head up the street to Rodriquez Polar King Drive-Inn (which would be their loss; it’s good Mexican food). Over time, if there are enough people there to hit a critical mass, there would be opportunities for local restaurants and other businesses to market on that small town charm.
We’ve seen this movie before. The last 50 years in Park City have been dramatic and constant change. We’ve seen the same story play out in Midway, and there isn’t much left of the Heber City I remember when my grandparents lived there. The growth in Kamas has given us a full-line grocery store and a great hardware store. There are nice places to eat. None of that would have been possible without an increased population base in the area. But there are two stop lights, which isn’t quite right.
The whole idea of gentrifying Coalville is difficult to wrap my head around. The City has approved the annexation, and is moving forward. I wish them well. It won’t be a smooth or easy road, and the destination won’t always be clear. There are plenty of mistakes to learn from around here. I hope Coalville doesn’t repeat them.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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