Amy Roberts: One flew over the cuckoo’s nest
Over the years I’ve become somewhat of a bird nerd. I enjoy watching them and love the challenge of trying to ID a species based on its markings, call, behavior or flight pattern. Given there’s over 10,000 unique species of birds, many of which are nearly identical, I find a certain level pride in confirming one.
While I’m definitely a fledgling in this hobby, a few years ago I found myself on a birding trip, giddy as I watched a Eurasian reed warbler painstakingly build a nest near my tent. I spied on the bird through my binoculars and took notes, I celebrated when she laid her eggs, and then, I got a pit in my stomach. I heard the call of a common cuckoo and knew what was about to happen. Sure enough, when the warbler was off hunting, the cuckoo laid an egg in the warbler’s nest and then went on her merry way. Not long after, the cuckoo’s egg hatched and the warbler was duped into raising it. She worked tirelessly to feed a chick that quickly became three times her size. And once her own eggs hatched, the young cuckoo tossed its step-siblings out of the nest to their certain death. Nature’s a bitch.
Unfortunately, this scenario isn’t limited to a couple birds in the wetlands of Romania. It seems to be playing out in Park City too, metaphorically at least. Every year more and more long-time locals are pushed from their homes, victims of larger, more powerful forces. The middle class here is a critically endangered species.
The city, with good intention, has focused largely on affordable housing. The plan might be admirable but it’s not practical. Nor is it equitable.
Many locals (myself included) simply got lucky with our timing. And really, timing is everything when it comes to real estate. But middle-class locals who invested before the market skyrocketed are now subsidizing housing they would probably qualify for, if not for their good timing. The equity in their homes often disqualifies them based on net worth, even though many would qualify based on income.
We are never going to build our way out of the housing shortage — too many people want to live here and too many can’t afford to. So doesn’t it make more sense to use resources to attract businesses that pay wages aligned with the cost of living and expand the transportation system to make commuting more convenient? This seems more logical than expecting someone making $43,000 (the average annual salary of an hourly worker in Park City) to purchase a place they can barely afford and pay HOA fees they have no control over, all while forgoing meaningful equity due to deed restrictions.
Housing is a complicated issue, one that deserves a lot of deliberation. Considering the idea that homeownership does not automatically endow one with unlimited funds to subsidize debatably gratuitous projects is a good place to start.
The proposed arts and culture district is expected to cost over $100 million, an amount that will be added to the already-existing tabs for the purchase of Bonanza Flat and Treasure (together exceeding $100 million). Not to mention the pending school bond, which is expected to cost another $100 million or more. Throw in lawsuit costs to keep Hideout in its corner, and well, that’s a whole lotta debt.
Some of it was approved by voters, some of it is essential to producing an educated community and maintaining control of rightfully owned property. And some of it just feels like a middle finger to the middle class.
If residents are expected to absorb another $100 million project, they should at least have the opportunity to vote on it, as was the case with the purchase of Bonanza Flat and Treasure and is expected to be the case with the school district. The same standard should be applied to the arts and culture district. If it passes, we know the voters consider it important.
If it doesn’t, the city can still sell the already-acquired land at fair market value to the organizations expected to be headquartered there, both of which can raise private funds to bring the project to fruition. And the section that was earmarked for affordable housing? How about a nice patch of grass where locals can actually gather? Revolving food trucks, live music, outdoor games, public art, a community garden — amenities that benefit the entire community.
Not putting such a controversial and expensive project on the ballot just seems, well, cuckoo.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.
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