Tom Clyde: Park City’s biggest issues are out of its voters’ hands
I saw an article this week that said Springdale is Utah’s least affordable housing market. Second was Rockville, right next door. Down the road, Kanarraville was third. Park City is only the fourth least affordable housing in Utah.
Fourth? That’s the best we can do?
The rankings are a combination of median housing prices compared to median household wages, and apparently Park City has enough high incomes to support the high housing prices. The only employment in Springdale, just outside of Zion National Park, is in the service industry, and there’s little housing inventory of any kind.
Housing affordability is one of the important issues facing Park City that they can actually do something about. The City has set some ambitious goals for affordable housing in town. It’s not clear where there is land to put it on, and they are wrestling with whether building units for sale with deed restrictions on re-sale is better than going into the landlord business on a grand scale. Either way, they are serious about it. The demand will always exceed the supply, but a few hundred city-owned units might be enough to skew the rental market in the right direction (or drive everybody into Airbnb).
Tuesday is the primary election. Park City residents will winnow the field of 7 candidates to 6 for the general election in November. You can feel the excitement in the air. Well, maybe not. It’s a pretty low-key affair. There’s absolutely no excuse for not voting. The ballots were mailed to registered voters, and are sitting there on the kitchen counter. The effort involved in filling it out and sending it back isn’t much. As civic duties go, you should be up to the task.
What’s interesting is to hear people who think they live in Park City complaining that they didn’t get their ballots. If you live in the condominia at the Browns Canyon junction (there are probably 1,000 people living there, and the neighborhood is so raw that it doesn’t even have a name), you don’t get to vote. That’s unincorporated Wasatch County. And then there is Hideout Town, where there are 3 people running for 3 seats; not a lot of suspense in that one.
The City Council elections in Park City used to be a big deal. They are still a big deal in terms of the amount of cash they burn through every year. Decisions at the City are important in terms of the overall visitor experience. No matter what the owners of the ski resorts do, if basic City services fall apart, it will mess up a vacation. But the biggest factors in that have moved beyond the City’s control.
The issues that are crushing Park City are all external. The traffic load gets worse by the week. It’s traffic originating outside the City limits, delivering workers, inventory, and visitors into town. Nobody really cares if Prospector residents take the bus to the MARC. The traffic problems are 15,000 workers a day driving into town from Salt Lake, Heber, Kamas and beyond. That traffic is on state highways that are managed by UDOT, beyond the control of the City Council.
The sense that suburbanization has overrun the place is real, and also beyond the control of the City Council. That growth is happening in Summit County, Wasatch County, and other municipalities that are absorbing a lot of Park City workers with somewhat lower-cost housing. If any of that was in the City’s jurisdiction, there might be transit options built into the neighborhoods. But it’s not, so there aren’t transit hubs. The development in Wasatch County doesn’t contribute much of anything to the cost of operating the bus system, so it’s hard to see how Park City can provide service — other than if they don’t, the traffic will back up to Duchesne on a snowy morning.
But that’s UDOT’s problem, or Wasatch County’s, or Hideout’s, or MIDA’s. There’s almost nothing Park City can do about it, though in the end, gridlock will ruin the visitor experience. So the City Council can provide amenities in town, keep local services up to a high standard, and provide our guests and residents with a nice experience. The Council can take on the housing issue, and do flower baskets on the light posts, and subsidize the Arts District (because this is such a cultural wasteland), and so on. The big stuff, however, is beyond their control.
Park City is just one tasty morsel in a messy jurisdictional stew. There are lots of other pieces in there, and the reality is that there is nobody in charge any more. Each jurisdiction is going in its own direction, making decisions based on their internal considerations without looking at the whole picture. Two hundred units here, a thousand units there, and pretty soon, it begins to add up to real development pressure on every public service out there.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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