With 20,000 units planned around the Jordanelle Reservoir, officials say regionalization is the key to dealing with impacts
When the valley was dammed and the water started flowing into what would become the Jordanelle Reservoir in the mid-1990s, it was easy to see the state’s youngest body of water as the start of something new.
But for some who make it their business to develop land, the prospect of a new summertime destination just over the hill from Park City had been enticing for years.
As the effects of the Great Recession continue to recede, the second wave of development around the Jordanelle is set to accelerate this spring, cashing in on a rash of approvals Wasatch County made as the Jordanelle was filling in the 1990s when the county wanted some of the growth the ski industry was bringing its neighbor.
That growth is now coming to fruition, and the numbers are stark.
Taking a broad look that includes land potentially set to be annexed into Heber City to the south and development at the mouth of Brown’s Canyon to the northeast, there are around 20,000 units, unit equivalents or lots entitled to be built in the vicinity of the Jordanelle. There’s no guarantee 20,000 units will be built. In fact, it appears likely many won’t be, at least in the near-term, given the possibility of an economic downturn, market saturation and a trend of developers building fewer than the maximum number of units allowed.
Still, even half that number would have huge impacts.
Local officials say the development is coming one way or another, and their hope is to shape it as best they can. They point to regional coordination as the key to ensuring that the effects of all that growth — from traffic to school class sizes to affordable housing to commercial sprawl — are somewhat mitigated.
“It’s like we’re building a town out here,” said Bill Coleman, a longtime Park City-area real estate figure who is a listing agent on Skyridge, a housing development on the northwestern shore of the Jordanelle.
But this “town” around the Jordanelle stretches across two counties, the Town of Hideout and the Military Installation Development Authority (MIDA) project area, making coordinating future planning difficult. There are different regulatory processes and land-use authorities in each jurisdiction, and though officials say communication is increasing between the governments, there isn’t one general plan that covers the entire region.
That’s important when it comes to things like where to locate commercial services — the grocery stores and gas stations residents rely on — and also for planning a transit system, a critical need in the face of mounting gridlock.
With 20,000 units possibly on the horizon for the area around the Jordanelle Reservoir, officials have said a holistic view that encompasses the entire region is necessary for dealing with the impacts from traffic to transit.
But the area includes two counties, one town and one Military Installation Development Authority project area, plus a myriad of developers. And the region’s largest player, Park City, doesn’t own the land or control how it’s used.
Summit County and Park City officials have stressed the need for a regional transit solution, but previous talks with Wasatch County haven’t produced results. There are signs that there will be a renewed push for regionalization in coming months, and one meeting March 3 may have been the unlikely first step.
Jan McCosh, Hideout’s town manager, has been working to get all the players in the room to work on a trail system to connect the larger trail infrastructure going around the reservoir up through new development and into Park City’s trail system in Round Valley.
On Tuesday, officials from Park City, Summit County, Wasatch County, MIDA, Hideout, Francis, Heber and Kamas, as well as the Skyridge development and trails consultants were invited to meet to discuss the trail system.
It may be the first time such a group has met.
McCosh said she’s thrilled the opportunity came about.
“We’re working together. We are working together to build an amazing trail that will be one of the best in the state,” McCosh said. “This could be a great opportunity as we head into bigger things to understand each stakeholder’s position. We’re coming together to create something great.”
Hideout Mayor Phil Rubin, for one, estimates 10,000 new units will be built around the Jordanelle in the next decade or so.
“With all these people coming, how are we going to let them do the stuff they need to do?” Rubin said. “10,000 cars is basically Sundance every week.”
And time is running out for officials to move proactively to set the agenda, rather than react to the problems created by the growth.
As soon as the snow melts this spring, one piece of critical infrastructure is expected to be paved and finished that will kick off a new round of construction around the northwest portion of the Jordanelle.
The Jordanelle Parkway runs along an old rail line roughly east-west between U.S. 40 and S.R. 248 north of the Jordanelle Reservoir. It’s been in the works for more than 20 years, according to Doug Smith, Wasatch County’s planning director, and was all but finished last year. MIDA, which controls the land west of U.S. 40 where the Mayflower Mountain Resort is planned, provided financing for the road project.
Before Wasatch County will issue building permits for Skyridge and other developments, the road must be paved and accepted by the county. There has also been talk of commercial development on the eastern end of the parkway across S.R. 248 from Brown’s Canyon Road, which UDOT has studied as a sight of a future traffic light.
“Once that parkway goes in, we’ll start seeing more and more pressure from these developments to start bringing in plans and getting approvals,” Smith said.
Work is expected to begin in earnest this spring on the Mayflower Mountain Resort across U.S. 40 and on the Skyridge development, which is planned to eventually include 483 lots on the northwest hillsides around the reservoir. Wasatch County is evaluating a building permit for the resort’s first hotel, and Gary Barnett, CEO of Extell Development, which is developing the resort, anticipates that permit could be in hand this month. Coleman anticipates Skyridge will “have sticks in the air by fall.”
Those developments are both in what is called the Jordanelle Specially Planned Area, a planning district set up by Wasatch County that has its own planning commission and approval process, though MIDA now controls virtually all of the land in the area west of U.S. 40. The maximum density levels for the area were set in 2002 with what Smith called 30,000-foot perspective, and many projects around the Jordanelle require further scrutiny before final approval. But he said developers are creative and often very good at getting every unit possible onto a site.
The density numbers are caps, not approvals, but Smith expects many of the eventual approvals for projects in the Jordanelle Specially Planned Area to approach those numbers.
South of the reservoir, there are three massive projects that together yield nearly 10,000 equivalent residential units. Heber City is in talks to annex two of them — the North Village and Sorenson developments, which together equal roughly 7,500 equivalent residential units. If that occurs, it would be Heber City’s general plan that governs where future services go, meaning a tourist staying near the Jordanelle who’s in search of a grocery store might be heading south rather than north to Quinn’s Junction or Kimball Junction.
Park City is at the center of this growth, if not geographically then as a motivating force. Rubin said Hideout residents consider themselves Parkites, for example, and Coleman said one of the best parts of the Skyridge project is its proximity to Park City. But while the city owns land around Quinn’s Junction and its annexation boundaries approach the Jordanelle, it does not have land-use authority over any of the development.
Park City remains, however, the magnetic center of the area, the place where tourists want to visit and the beginning and end of many car trips.
And it still has pull, as evidenced in a scrap this fall over Hideout’s draft annexation boundaries that included some Park City-owned parcels. Hideout acquiesced to Park City’s wishes and removed the parcels from its annexation boundaries.
As the greater Jordanelle area is built out, some wonder what affect it will have on Park City’s status as the regional power.
A tourist getting off a plane at the Salt Lake City airport heading to Park City, for instance, would have to drive into increasingly dense traffic and through traffic lights to reach accommodations that are in many cases at least 20 years old at the end of the road in Park City.
They would pass Park City Mountain Resort’s Canyons Village base area, which is in Summit County and the site of millions of square feet of new resort space that’s set to come online in coming years.
Alternatively, the visitor could drive past Kimball Junction on Interstate 80, get on U.S. 40 and reach the Mayflower Mountain Resort, a trip that involves zero traffic lights and that ends at a resort that’s so new it hasn’t been built yet.
While no officials seem to be predicting the imminent demise of Park City as the area’s main draw, it seems clear the new development around the Jordanelle has the potential to change the equation for tourists and second-home owners alike.
In a recent Summit County Council meeting, Councilor Roger Armstrong suggested the growth around the reservoir might change the region’s dynamics.
“Right now, Park City is a magnet for workers,” Armstrong said. “At some point, there’s going to be a shift, and we all need to be conscious of that.”
Many see Mayflower Mountain Resort as a major focal point of the growing area. Bill Redkey, who chairs the Jordanelle Specially Planned Area Planning Commission, said he envisions the Mayflower area as one of three or four regional hubs, a list that also includes Kimball Junction and Park City.
The planned ski area will sit on the eastern edge of Deer Valley Resort and has long been anticipated to serve as its eastern portal. Some now think it may become the area’s new front door.
But as of late February, Barnett said Mayflower did not have an agreement in place about what entity will operate it, whether it’s Deer Valley or another ski industry player.
Extell and Deer Valley signed a 199-year lease last summer for Extell-owned land under some Deer Valley lifts, but an operating agreement for Mayflower has yet to materialize.
Barnett said that his ideal vision is to merge the two entities but that there are other options if a deal isn’t worked out. He portrayed his resort as being in a position of strength as development around the Jordanelle ramps up, with plans for a ski village at the Mayflower base with restaurants and nightlife.
“I think Park City has a tremendous charm and is going to always be popular,” Barnett said. “But there’s growth and growth doesn’t have to mean densifying Park City any more and adding to already terrible traffic they have. … I think that the growth could very well occur in our resort and in the Jordanelle area and that doesn’t need to take away from the charm of Park City or the success of Canyons. But there’s a lot to be said for our situation, our location and the fact that we will have the only brand-new, state-of-the-art resort over the last 30-40 years.”
Years ago, as Wasatch County saw the growth brought by the ski industry in neighboring Park City and Summit County, Coleman said it wanted a slice of the apple. Now, decades after approvals and on the heels of a recession that slowed the process, the county is getting the growth it wanted.
“Planning started in the late 1980s, 1990s, 2000s — there are no surprises here,” Coleman said. “Once they’re built, there are probably some nice people who are going to move in.”
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The Jordanelle Reservoir is at about 67% of its capacity, not the lowest its been but a level that officials say is concerning.