Guest opinion: Embrace smart growth like what’s being proposed at Tech Center site |

Guest opinion: Embrace smart growth like what’s being proposed at Tech Center site

The realities of climate change, inequity and a dearth of affordable housing are among us in Summit County. It’s time to set a standard for sustainable mixed-use development near jobs, services and transit.

Kimball Junction is the best location in the entire county for an inclusive transit-oriented neighborhood. Allowing a mix of uses on the centrally located Tech Center property will unlock undeniable benefits to residents, visitors and businesses. This location is easily accessible without a car, adjacent to everyday services and a community focal point that we can be proud of. It’s the Basin’s natural nucleus of activity, ready for homegrown innovation, and perfect for dynamic public spaces for entertainment, farmers’ markets and other programming to bring our community together. Done right, a project like the one proposed by Dakota Pacific will provide well-connected living opportunities for bands of commuters that descend on Summit County from communities afar. A complete neighborhood in this strategic location will encourage car-light (if not car-free) living and sets a precedent for the type of smart growth our community must default to in the future.

If the past year is any indication, specifics like affordability levels for the eventual project — which will likely be phased over time — will be diligently negotiated so our community gets the best possible outcome. But right now, what’s most pressing is that we take a stand in support of a responsible development concept that puts housing next to life’s daily needs.

Here are three big reasons for expanding the allowable uses in this prime location.

Equity: According to a 2020 report issued by Economic Development Director Jeff Jones, mind-boggling median home prices (~$950,000) outstrip average earnings of Summit County workers ($56,791) by a landslide. Not only does this leave little opportunity for teachers, emergency personnel and ski patrollers, but it complicates financials for higher-income households too. And when it comes to the bus drivers, grocery store clerks, dishwashers and other essential workers that prop up our local economy, there’s no choice but to drive to areas of lower rent — burdening these individuals with disproportionate transportation costs.

At its core, this project is about creating opportunities for the elderly, working-class families and other vulnerable community members that may otherwise be pushed away or locked out from the living conditions that we, as Snyderville Basin residents, are incredibly lucky to have.

Climate: An estimated 70% of existing traffic in Kimball Junction is generated by commuters from outside Summit County. Yes, we must advocate for renewable energy, low-impact design and other green building practices in any proposal, but what’s most urgent is reducing vehicle miles traveled through efficient siting. The residential component of this project can eliminate a large portion of out-of-county commuters by giving priority to employees that work nearby. The fundamental concept of sustainable development is building places that make walking, biking and public transit convenient — and that’s exactly what the tech center parcel has in store.

Resilience: Although Summit County health officials have sprung into action when dealing with this pandemic, COVID-19 has exposed vulnerabilities of our built environment. A lucky few have coasted through this catastrophe, sheltered in expansive mountain estates with stable internet, ample space to social distance and stuffed pantries with the bimonthly Costco run. But in reality, our society is unprepared to handle the king tide of a public health crisis, economic lockdown and financial downturn. Luckily, neighborhoods where housing, diversified employment, health care, goods and services intermingle in proximity have been shown to better absorb tremors of instability. Further, less reliable winters of late necessitate a diversified economy that doesn’t rely solely on snowflake recreation and tourism. The concept put forth by Dakota Pacific is rooted in resilience to weather the storms mentioned above and more.

There is so much on the horizon for this community. But with ongoing growth pressures and another Olympics in our reach, we have no choice but to embrace the importance of smart growth. Without it, we risk eating up our hillsides, aspen groves and world-class single-track with senseless sprawling development.

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