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Worker housing requested

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

The Empire Pass developers want to build a workforce-housing project on the southeastern edge of Old Town, positioning the units just off Marsac Avenue and across the street from neighbors.

Talisker-controlled United Park City Mines recently submitted blueprints to City Hall outlining a 20-unit project situated on the eastern side of Marsac Avenue uphill from City Hall. The land is across the street from a row of houses on Chambers Street.

The application, which was turned in to the Planning Department on Nov. 9, has not been widely publicized, and several neighbors say they were unaware of the proposal.

According to Brooks Robinson, the City Hall official who directs the day-to-day operations of the Planning Department, Talisker wants to build 10 duplexes on a little more than two acres. Plans show the housing situated just off a proposed one-way driveway with 30 parking spots. Open space is planned behind the units.

The land is undeveloped, but there is a crumbling retaining wall at the site. It is at the bottom of a steep hillside that climbs eastward from Marsac Avenue. The northern end of the development site is near the spot where four roads — Marsac Avenue, Hillside Avenue, Prospect Avenue and Chambers Street — meet.

Talisker envisions the project as counting toward its required restricted workforce housing related to Empire Pass, the ritzy development under construction on the slopes of Deer Valley Resort. Under the Empire Pass agreement with City Hall, Talisker must provide about 100 units of workforce housing. Talisker is also considering other spots, including Quinn’s Junction, for additional units. City Hall requires bigger developers to build workforce housing.

"The way the project has been preliminarily designed, it’s an excellent fit," says Dave Smith, an executive with Talisker who handles the company’s development applications, describing the units as looking like houses from the street level.

According to a description of the project submitted to City Hall, Talisker wants to put up one-bedroom and two-bedroom units, with the smaller ones being 700 square feet and the larger ones 900 square feet. It says the duplexes will "have the look of a large single family Victorian style house" similar to the architecture in Old Town.

United Park previously identified the site as a potential spot for workforce housing, before Talisker took control of the company.

"I think it will work. If it gets smaller, I don’t think it’s a bad thing," Robinson says, labeling the proposal as "not intensively dense."

He notes the site is an easy walk to Main Street and the Old Town transit center.

City Hall staffers must review the application, and then it will be presented to the city’s Planning Commission. The panel must hold a hearing before deciding whether to allow the project. Robinson expects to present it to the Planning Commission in January.

Phyllis Robinson, who directs City Hall’s worker housing programs, says she researched the Marsac Avenue site almost a decade ago, while she led the nonprofit group Mountainlands Community Housing Trust. United Park was formulating its initial plans at the time.

She says the site provides an option for workers inside Park City, which she says could reduce the number of commuters.

"I personally love the idea of in-town ownership," she says.

The stretch of Marsac Avenue between the Old Town roundabout and the proposed site is largely developed. Still, the streets in upper Old Town are narrow and neighbors frequently complain about traffic.

Some people who live on nearby streets will probably worry about the project, but it is unclear if there will be widespread opposition, as there often is when City Hall considers workforce-housing projects.

Alan Schueler, who lives on Prospect Avenue near the Talisker site, says traffic on Marsac Avenue is bad, drivers speed regularly and people do not stop at a stop sign near the intersection.

"You’re adding to an already-insane amount of construction traffic" and regular drivers, Schueler says, adding the project would ruin the view and displace hikers and bicyclists who use the land. "Now they’ll be a bunch of parked cars and buildings."

Schueler says he plans to testify against the project, and he intends to seek backing from his neighbors.

"They want to build them in someone else’s neighborhood. Why don’t they build it up there," he says, pointing toward Empire Pass.

The application comes as Talisker intensifies its efforts to build the required workforce housing related to Empire Pass. There is also talk that some of the Empire Pass-mandated units could be built at Quinn’s Junction as part of a larger workforce-housing development.

Smith, the Talisker executive, says the company wants to break ground in spring 2008 and finish the first units eight months later.

Contaminated soil possible

An executive from Talisker-controlled United Park City Mines acknowledges there is the potential of finding mining-era waste on the site where the firm wants to build a workforce-housing development in Old Town.

Dave Smith says the soil at the site, situated off Marsac Avenue uphill from City Hall and across the street from a row of houses on Chambers Street, could be contaminated. However, the firm has not tested the ground. If contaminated soil is found at the site, Smith says it would be a small amount.

He says it would be simple to cap contaminated soil at the site or truck it to an environmental repository at Richardson Flats, east of Park City.

Certain areas in Old Town are known to have contaminated soils left from Park City’s silver-mining era, which lasted for a century and ended as the ski industry began to dominate the economy.

Housing: likely for-sale units

Officials with Talisker-controlled United Park City Mines say, under the current plans, the 20 units of workforce housing the company wants to build in Old Town will be put up for sale.

However, details have not been decided, and they say they cannot yet price the units. Future interest rates and City Hall’s workforce-housing calculations will influence the prices, they say.

If the units were available now, Talisker says they would be priced in the low $200,000s, well under the market rate in the neighborhood.

The company says it is currently unclear who will be eligible to purchase the units. Prospective buyers would have to qualify through their income.


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