Guest opinion: Here’s why the Summit County Council is considering approving development proposal for Tech Center
Summit County Council
Global warming is an existential threat to the world, the U.S., Utah and Summit County. It will affect our snowpack, economy, forests, water supply and growth. It must affect our responses to climate change, land-use decisions, building and zoning codes, and forest health and watershed preservation strategies.
Growth: Summit County, over the past five decades, has equaled or exceeded the growth rate of the rest of the state. In 1970 there were less than 6,000 residents in Summit County — now over 42,000. The housing deficit, statewide and in Summit County, as well as steadily rising temperatures and resulting deterioration of living conditions on the Wasatch Front, will make Summit County an increasingly desirable place to live.
With over 600,000 undeveloped privately owned acres zoned at 1 unit per 1 to 80 acres, the county’s population can easily double, without zoning changes. Our challenge is to channel the growth into what in the past would have been considered highly dense neighborhoods, while conserving open space. The alternative is sprawl of 1 to 40-acre single family developments requiring roads, water, sewer and other utilities, and producing a massive individual carbon footprint.
Global warming will require economic diversification in Summit County. The future of the ski industry in Summit County can be measured in decades, on one hand. If this is such a desirable place to live, why have our efforts at economic diversification failed? A major cause is the cost of housing, not just at the lowest income levels, but also at moderate income levels. The creation of mixed-use developments with a wide range of affordability and economic opportunities is essential in creating a more diverse economy.
Response to global warming also demands more comprehensive environmental standards for buildings. State law allows us to do so for any development requesting increased density. By creating a series of dense mixed-use neighborhoods around the county while preserving open space in the surrounding area, we can reduce the everyday carbon footprint of residents in these new developments and drastically reduce external water use. Electrification, use of 100% renewable electrical energy and mandatory xeriscaping is essential to this goal.
Traffic is the main complaint the County Council receives for virtually any project. That is exceptionally true for the Dakota Pacific project. There is no question that the traffic flow at Kimball Junction must be improved. The fear that a new, large-scale development will make a bad condition worse is a reasonable assumption, but not necessarily accurate. The reality is that given the existing growth trends in Summit County, the daily traffic congestion at Kimball Junction will only get worse, with or without the Dakota Pacific project. The only thing that will improve the traffic condition there is completion of the proposed Alt 3 UDOT project. This project is currently on the secondary list of projects — in other words, it will maybe be completed in the next decade. The way UDOT determines priorities is both an objective and subjective (politically influenced) process. The objective criteria are population density and traffic counts. Given the relative lack of density and traffic counts when compared to Wasatch Front projects, S.R. 224 may always be a “next decade” project. Dakota Pacific brings the density and political clout to increase the likelihood of bringing the project to completion. The council will require a phased approach that will require S.R. 224 approval and construction before completion of the full development. It is my firm opinion that approval of this project is the only way that I will see S.R. 224 improved in my lifetime.
We are still negotiating final details on phasing and legal language. If we cannot reach agreement on these issues, the project will likely die. If we can, I believe this project will massively advance the county’s goals in traffic mitigation, sustainability, affordable housing and economic diversification and set a path for future sustainable, low-carbon, low-water-use growth.
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