Tom Clyde: Summit and Wasatch counties are becoming one entity. We need to act like it
I was out with some equally fossilized friends the other night, and the conversation turned to growth and the destruction of the world as we know it. It was, I suspect, the exact same conversation that others had 40 years ago when we all moved to Park City. Only they were talking about us. Change has been constant here. I guess it’s constant everywhere, but in a town with an economy that has always depended on such undependables as silver prices, snowpack, and the vagaries of second home tax laws, it seems like change happens more rapidly here.
This is a very different place than it was a generation ago. And we are to blame because we made it happen.
We really have no business complaining about reaping what we sowed. But the traffic really stinks. We’ve polished off all the rough edges, somehow forgetting that it was the rough edges that gave the place its appeal in the first place. Everything is structured, permitted, and administrated. If you want to do something really spontaneous, you first have to form a 501(c)(3) corporation and hire an executive director at six figures to manage the permits.
Yes, it was unpleasant having to fight your way through a pack of dogs to get to the Post Office, and seldom did your shoes escape without stepping in it. But you also knew most of the dogs, and seeing them in full scrum confirmed that a friend was in the Post Office or the laundromat across the street, and led to blowing off an hour of work over coffee at the Deli.
But those days are gone. We are no longer a quirky little mountain town. We are now a metropolitan area that will soon sprawl continuously from Summit Park to Daniels, east of Heber, and all the way around Jordanelle. Blink a couple of times and we will become a city of 100,000 people. If none of the jurisdictions involved ever approves another unit, what’s already approved gets us there. They are strip-mining condominiums in Wasatch County. Every time I drive into town, there is another gouge taken out of the mountainside.
Much as I’d like to turn back the clock to the one-stoplight days (and by the time the first one went in, we needed it), it isn’t possible. 100,000 people is a certainty. 150,000 is not off the table. So deal with it.
We need to quit planning and governing like we are that long-lost quirky town that got polished into the sort of gem where Gorsuch seems like a perfect fit. We need to start dealing with the reality that we are a mid-sized city. Park City is just a neighborhood in the greater metroplex. That means figuring out what makes mid-sized cities desirable places to live, and fostering that. The parallel is now places like Bend, and Traverse City. Toto, we’re not like Telluride any more.
There is a jurisdictional chowder in place that doesn’t make sense. There are planning commissions in Park City, Snyderville Basin, Eastern Summit County, Wasatch County, Jordanelle Basin, Hideout, Francis, Kamas, Oakley, Midway and probably others. That’s a whole lot of planning, but when as the edges blur, nothing meshes very well. It’s all focused internally, without much attention paid to what’s happening across the jurisdictional boundary.
The school district boundaries make no sense at all. There are more school districts than we need, and the tax base isn’t located where the kids live. That’s a problem. People in Hideout get their mail in Kamas, send their kids to school in Heber, and think they live in Park City. I see confused Hideout-ites in the Kamas Post Office all the time trying to make sense of it. They can’t because it doesn’t.
We need to be dealing with regional planning, with all those jurisdictions working together, and the artificial boundaries ignored. Planning commissions will spend months on a vacant lot in historic Newpark, but not five minutes on a project of 1,300 units on the other side of an arbitrary line. Silver Creek Village, Black Rock, Mayflower—those projects are huge, but not discussed because they are somebody else’s jurisdiction.
Despite we old timers’ grousing, the Wasatch Back is still pretty appealing. Somebody is buying all those condos around Jordanelle, and every week another farm in Francis bites the dust. While some of us look at it and recoil, others have discovered paradise, and are willing to pay astounding prices for a piece of it.
If it’s going to work, we need to be dealing with the whole enchilada. Existing towns need to retain their identities within the whole. Hideout needs a downtown, or at least a 7-Eleven. People live and work here like it is a single community, but we manage things like it is several separate continents. That needs to stop. The Wasatch Back needs to be managed as one entity.
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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Tom Clyde has a lot to worry about these days, with the coronavirus pandemic, the uncertain economy and airplane parts falling from the sky. Add mountain lions to the list.