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Invocation for the Sundance Film Festival Visitor

Thank you oh thank you Sundance Film Festival Visitor.
Thank you for the millions of dollars you bring to our community each year.
Thank you for screening films, so the rest of us can watch them on Netflix.
Thank you for taking every hotel room, so we can ski fresh powder.
Thank you for paying a $100 for a burrito, so our restaurants can survive.

May you find a town that has metamorphosed into just what you want, for at least a couple of weeks.
May you actually listen to Robert Redford’s opening remarks, because they actually mean something.
May you get six inches of snow tonight, so Park City appears to be the place you think it is.
May you have rented a 4WD, in case you actually get that six inches of snow.
May you not experience a drug overdose, on Main Street, at some club at 3AM.
May you not get Harvey Weinstein’d in that same club at 4AM.
May you treat locals you meet with respect, or at least not be a complete douchebag.
May you find the perfect pair of fur underwear at Alaskan Fur.
May you find some meaning (any meaning) in the respect rally.
May you know how to perform a zipper merge on Highway 248.
May your wardrobe include something besides black, since the PIB monicker is getting really old.

So, thank you oh thank you visitor to the Sundance Film Festival.
While many of us will do everything we can to avoid you,
We do appreciate that you come.

Summit County has failed us

Summit County government has failed the populace with its decisions on Woodward at Gorgoza. 

As you may have heard, The Snyderville Basin Planning Commission approved a new development at the Gorgoza Sledding Park. According to the Park Record it will “include a more than 52,000-square-foot action-sports center, equipped with indoor trampolines, ramps, foam pits, pump tracks, concrete skate park and a digital media studio. Other amenities would include a food court, lounge and coffee house, and a party room.” Outdoor amenities planned include lift served snow sports, riding and teaching terrain, expanded snow making tubing, a four-person chair lift, an outdoor skate park, expanded mountain biking trail system and freestyle-mountain biking terrain.

Also, keep in mind the 52,000 square foot building will be 45 feet high. That is 13 feet taller than is generally allowed in the Snyderville Basin. Just for reference, that is over 25% bigger than the new Whole Foods and over 10 feet taller.

So, how did we get here?

In 1999 POWDR Corp signed a development agreement with Summit County that speaks to a small indoor lodge and outdoor recreation. The Project Description says “Gorgoza park will offer a variety of non-motorized outdoor recreational activities that may include: snow tubing with up to 5 tube tows with up to four lanes per tow; snowplay; snowboarding accessed via a chair lift with a terrain park and two half pipes; snowblades and skiing; ice rink and skating; snowshoe and ski trails; winter alpine slide rides; toboggan and luge/bob rides; all terrain carts and thrill sleds; a climbing wall; a skate park and an all terrain skateboard area; BMX and mountain bike trails; alpine slide rides, and other uses consistent with the mountain outdoor recreation setting.”

What was approved then was truly an outdoor recreation facility.

What we will have now is that outdoor recreation facility, plus a 45 foot tall, 52,000 sq foot building (with a food court, coffee shop, etc, etc, etc.).

From a pubic perspective, it’s not the same thing that was originally agreed to in 1999. Yet, Summit County seemed to bend over backwards to make this work. In December 2016, the Summit County Council voted 3-2 to allow the height exception enabling the overside building to be built. Their reasoning seemed to be that we want recreation around Park City, and this development can’t work without a 45 tall building, so they allowed it.

They seemed to remember that Parkites like recreation but forgot that we have a water problem. They forgot we have a traffic problem. They forgot we have an affordable housing problem. They forgot we have a problem with employees driving up from the valley to work.

They also forgot that this decision could set a dangerous precedent for exceeding height restrictions. If all someone needs to prove is that you need the extra height to function, that’s a pretty low bar. I should say not all forgot, as council member Roger Armstrong cited that concern and voted against the height exception.

If the Council would have enforced the height restriction, and a 45 foot tall building was required to make the building viable, maybe Woodward at Gorgoza would have remained an outdoor facility as originally agreed to. Possibly, Woodward at Gorgoza may not have happened at all. Either way there would likely be less impact.

The second issue that happened along the way is that the Summit County Planning Department ruled that the 52,000 sq ft building was an accessory use to the property. This opened up the ability for the Woodward folks to apply for a conditional use permit (CUP). Once a CUP is all that is needed for development, all that can really be done per Utah law is to try and mitigate issues like traffic.

This then led the Snyderville Basin Planning Commission to approve the conditional use permit. While it would be easy to blame them for their approval, all they can generally do is try to mitigate issues once they are facing a conditional use permit. It’s much like the judge that has to let the murderer go on technicalities. In this case, all they can really do is to try to fix as many issues as possible. They can’t prevent it. They were put in this position by the decisions made before the issue came to them.

Of course, there are people who are excited for this development. They think it will improve property values. They believe it will be great to have a recreation facility so close to Pinebrook and Jeremy Ranch. Of course, everyone is entitled to their opinion. That doesn’t change the fact that this development isn’t like what was originally approved. Given our current issues, it’s hard to see how the new agreement is better for the populace than what was originally agreed upon in 1999. In fact, if the development was delayed (or never happened at all), it would likely be better for traffic, noise, pollution, affordable housing, and the water issues we currently face.

The county buys a property like Cline Dahle for millions in order to put in a transportation hub and affordable housing, and then just further exacerbates the problems we are all trying to solve, by enabling something like Woodward at Gorgoza. It makes no sense. 

On this one, we believe Summit County government completely botched this.

We don’t need the USA Today to tell us we have good schools

Today someone sent in an anonymous tip linking to the Park Record story on USA Today ranking Park City High School as the best high school in the state. First, whoever you were, thanks. We love community feedback and appreciate ideas from the public. We usually won’t post something the Park Record has posted because if you’re here at the Park Rag, you’ve probably run out of things to read at the Park Record and are trying to figure out how to fill what-used-to-be your ski time. Maybe we should copyright that?

That said, at a macro level our schools are great. Our teachers are great. Our administrators are great. Our school board is great much improved and we are hoping that time shows greatness. Again, these things are at a macro level. At a micro level, there are crapy teachers. There are crappy administrators. There are individual people and actions that aren’t as good as they should be. As a whole, however, our schools are great. I can’t imagine wanting my kids to go to any other public school in America. As an aside, my sister’s kids go to what is arguably the second most desirable private school in Chicago and it doesn’t seem to hold a candle next to what our district accomplishes in Park City. By the way, a lot of that difference is due to things that Superintendent Ember Conley brought in.

So, I love our schools.

However, let’s look at the USA Today rankings. First, it is USA today. Here is today’s front page for their website:

usatoday

So, if you’re tired of working for Delta, it looks like Area 51 is hiring….And don’t worry about James Franco. He is OK. Oh, and your kid is a socialist.

Digging deeper, USA Today rankings are based on rankings from a website called Niche. It then factors in student to teacher ratios, graduation rates, and AP test enrollment. Here is Park City High School’s Niche rating:

NewImage

So, it looks like we are the #1 high school in Utah according to Niche… but wait. For college prep we are the 4th best public school? Your kid is going to college right? As we suspected, if you care about your kids college prep, you should get them to Skyline High School in SLC, stat! 

We have great teachers right? What? We only have the 5th best teachers in the state. Yep. If you want the best of the best teachers, you better enroll them in one of four charter schools that have better teachers than Park City.

It’s what Niche says… and therefore USA Today.

Frankly at some level these rankings are all bullshit. Our kids’ education is made up of a million factors. The ranking tells you that your school is or isn’t complete crap. Does a ranking of number 1 really mean anything to your child?

I happen to believe my kids will get a great education in Park City. If next year, USA Today or TMZ ranks our schools as #10 in Utah, I definitely won’t be freaking out.

Everybody wants your money …

The past few years in Park City have been interesting.

Do you want better schools?
Here is a bond.

Do you want to fix transportation?
Here is a sales tax.

Do you want more recreation?
Here is a bond?

Do you want to save Bonanza Flat?
Here is a bond.

Do you want to try again to fix transportation and affordable housing?
Here is a bond.

Do you want to buy half of the Treasure Mountain project?
Here is a bond.

We wonder when this will lead to complete bond fatigue?

It reminds us of this classic scene from Airplane:

Perhaps the lack of snow is just what we needed …

What does it mean if it doesn’t start snowing?

Well, it makes winter here less fun… but it also means our local governments miss out on sales tax, report taxes, and Transient Room Tax (basically taxes paid by visitors using our hotels that can be used for specific things like tourism, recreation, etc.).

It appears that sales tax makes up about 15% of Summit County revenues. Taxes make up over 23% of Park City’s revenues.

Right now, due to lack of snow, our city and county managers have to be concerned. Is there enough money?

I had family in town over the Christmas holiday. I guarantee you they didn’t go back to Chicago and tell their friends how great Park City skiing is. I would imagine they are not alone. The lack of snow is going to impact reservations for MLK, Presidents’ Day, and spring break bookings. It’s also going to impact next Christmas as folks are going to be wary about coming during the early season, next year.

During a recent County Council meeting, County Manager Tom Fisher said he feared another recession (as he probably should). It doesn’t look like a recession is on the books… but this could impact us similarly. The problem is that the government has expanded our services based on the anticipation of these taxes. The Summit County budget, for example, has increased dramatically over the past few years (0ver 30%), while population growth has not.

Yet, in some ways I won’t be sorry if we have a winter without snow. Things feel over heated here. I enjoy skiing but I could give that up for a year, if it meant some stabilization. I’d like to know where we really are. I’d like to know what our community can really afford. I’d like to see mortgage rates at normal levels, so we know how much home people can really buy long-term. I’d like to know whether we really need another hotel at the Colby School. I’d like I’d like to know whether the current housing prices are an outlier or not, so we understand whether our schools will see an influx of children (if housing prices drops) or whether second home owners continue to rule.

I’d also like to know whether we truly have money to continue our bus program. I have fallen in love with the bus, and especially the 10 minute intervals for the Electric Express, but I’m not sure it makes sense economically.

I’d like to see whether we have good leadership. It’s often easy to lead when you are flush with cash… but the true test comes when there is adversity.

Frankly, no one knows what the weather will bring. We could record amazing snow through February, March, and April and no one may remember that this year started slow.

However, if it keeps the current pace, I likely won’t be sad. I’ll feel for those individuals who have to endure the hardship, but in the long-term our community will probably benefit from knowing what it truly is and what its capabilities are.

You may be losing some of your rights related to water

Last summer, Summit Water Distribution Company (SWDC) limited the days of week people could water. A neighbor accidentally watered on the wrong day and was visited by a representative of SWDC. According to the neighbor, he was told that he had better think about getting rid of his grass and landscaping because next year they were going to severely cut back his water. I told him that wasn’t possible, because he likely had rights to about 250,000 gallons a year. They can pro-rate the amount of water allotted during a shortage but how would an employee know a year ahead of time whether there would be a shortage?

We now know one of the ways they are planning on restricting water. 

If your water provider is SWDC, you would have received a notice of a “Special Meeting of the Summit Water Distribution Company.” This notice contains a voting slip, and a link to documents showing what changes they are proposing. In the Summary of Changes Articles, Article IX, it currently says “The Board of Directors shall have the power to adopt rules and regulations governing water use and shall, in the event of shortage, pro rate the available water….”  This is changed to  “The Board of Directors shall have the power to adopt rules and regulations governing water use and shall, in the event of shortage, or to encourage conservation, pro rate the available water….”

So, SWDC’s ability to limit your water would no longer be governed by an actual shortage but by the concept to encourage conservation.

Now, we have nothing against conservation. We live in the West where water is as valued as gold. We also realize that water rights have likely been oversold in Summit County.

That said, I do have a problem with signing away my available water. If this passes, it’s likely you’ll never have access to your full share of water again. You’ll probably pay the same amount each quarter but get less for it. 

The second problem is that the term encouraging conservation is so broad. There is no limit on it. We could have 5 record years of rainfall that replenishes our sources completely but they could still want to encourage people to conserve. Likewise, it seems they can use this broad term to limit levels to whatever they wish (as long as all people in a class have the same limits imposed). Does your 250,000 gallons get limited to 240,000 gallons or does your 250,000 gallons get limited to 50,000 gallons. That’s a big difference.

The third problem I have with this is that it’s a major change that was tucked away in a document. It’s as if they didn’t want people to see it. To gain my trust, I would have expected an accompanying document explaining this large change and why it is needed. Give me concrete details. Tell me what you are planning and why you are doing it.

There may be valid reasons SWDC wants to increase its level of control. However, I don’t currently trust the process. Perhaps if there was some limit on the level of reduction available due to “encouraging conservation” I could be more supportive. Likewise if there would be some explanation of why these changes are being made I may be more supportive. Otherwise, I’m left wondering why this change is happening. Have they mismanaged the water and there isn’t enough? Is this a way to make more money? Or maybe it is more benign and they just want some insurance and control should things go bad.

I will be voting no. I would encourage any share holder in SWDC to read the changes to the Articles and decide how you want to vote before the January 16th deadline or at the meeting being held January 16, 2018 at 6PM at the Jeremy Ranch Golf and Country Club.

Download document describing changes

How would you have voted on the I-80 wall near Jeremy Ranch?

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

– Spider Man’s Uncle Ben Voltaire

It’s been interesting watching the Battle for The Wall near Jeremy Ranch.

If you are not familiar, because UDOT is adding a truck lane to I-80, it opened up the possibility of adding a noise abatement wall along I-80 near Jeremy Ranch. The wall would run from the Jeremy Ranch Golf Course to the Hidden Cove area. Originally, a study recommended an 18 foot wall that could decrease sound by 5 decibels (or greater). Public outcry over wall height led to a proposed berm with a 7 to 17 foot high wall constructed that would reduce noise by 5 decibels (or greater) for certain homes (according to UDOT studies).

UDOT then followed its noise abatement policy and sent a ballot to property owners, in a certain area, that would see an estimated 5 decibel (or greater) reduction in noise. If 75% of the ballots were returned and 75% of the ballots returned voted for the wall, UDOT would build it. In the case of The Wall, it was approved with 25 votes for and 2 against. It was overwhelming. 93% of the people voted for it. The Park Record headline proclaimed “Jeremy Ranch residents approve Summit County’s first noise barrier.“ Umm, except, you know Jeremy Ranch has over 2,000 residents. There are over 600 homes. So, it may be more accurate to say that 4% of Jeremy Ranch homes voted for a wall. 

Yet, you know, The Wall isn’t just a Jeremy Ranch thing. Summit Park, Pinebrook, and Jeremy Ranch are the entry for many people coming to Park City. The Wall reflects on all of Park City. So actually, probably .0.3% of homes impacted by The Wall voted for this.

That said, we understand why someone may vote for The Wall if they lived in one of those 27 homes. Park City traffic is loud and it’s likely I-80 is pretty loud at these homes. Studies have shown that high levels of noise can cause health problems. People might also use trails adjacent toThe Wall and look forward to a quiet experience. So, I understand why people would seize the opportunity to try to make their lives quieter.

Yet, The Wall will likely be obtrusive. The berm and wall will likely be 18 feet high in places. It will likely impact peoples’ impressions of the area. It will likely be tagged. It will be reminiscent of areas along I-15, I-215, etc. in SLC. It probably doesn’t fit into what people think of when they think of a small mountain town. It will likely contribute to the notion that our community is another Sandy.

All that aside, what’s interesting about the vote for The Wall is that those types of votes rarely happen here. Usually your City, County Council, or Planning Commission make development decisions on your behalf. They usually make decisions based on how they perceive the overall benefit for the city or county. They vote for what they think is best for the community and not what may be best for them. Of course, they are elected to represent (or appointed by elected officials to represent), so that plays into it.

In this case, a decision was put into the hands of people directly impacted, and they made the decision. Twenty-five home owners/property owners/ tenants said, “we’d like that wall.” We don’t presume to know exactly why people voted as they did. However, we would guess that many voted with personal interests (as you might expect). One of the quotes in the Park Record article said, “The fact that there were people that would fight something I like this, I don’t understand that at all. I don’t understand that people would not want this to happen when they know it would be for the good of the people.” Let’s fix that. That should be “… when they know it would be for the good of a few people.”

I’m not sure how this benefits someone on Old Ranch Road, unless they are looking for a precedent to get their own wall. I’m not sure how it is good overall for the people of Jeremy Ranch, outside of the 25 voters, up to 15 other homes that may get some noise reduction, and the people who think it will make their trail commutes better. If 18 foot walls are good, then lets build them everywhere along I-80, 224, and 248. Most places in Park City could use some noise abatement.

In some ways I feel a little bad for the people compelled to vote on this. Just like the members of the County Council responsible for voting for the horrible redesign of The Village at Kimball 5 years ago, the people who voted for The Wall now own it. We hope they vetted the color, the design, the materials, the berm, the setbacks, and visual obstruction from every point. We hope they accounted for snow removal and the impacts of runoff and a million other things. That’s what the councils, their planning commissions, and staffs do in almost every case. They usually don’t depend on the developer (in this case UDOT) to give them complete facts. They usually depend on the developer to provide the absolute minimum that they are required to do.

Should the wall turn out great for the majority of Parkites, people will say, “that’s a nice wall.” Should it not go well, people will look at those 25 voters and squarely place blame.

What I do wonder, going forward, is how those people who voted with self-interest will treat other cases of self interest. Let’s say that a land swap deal was brokered to allow the hill across from the Jeremy Store to be zoned commercial and that allowed Gary Crandall to build a car dealership on the hill. Would the self-interested portion of The Wall voters stand up behind Gary Crandall and support his right to self-interest? Would they write letters to editor proclaiming that the car dealership is GOOD FOR THE PEOPLE? The people being Mr Crandall, his family, and his investors, of course. I mean, even Gary Crandall has to eat.

Again, I understand why people may have voted for The Wall. If I were in their situation, I may have done the same thing. However, I hope I would have viewed my position as having great responsibility. I would hope that I would view myself as casting a vote that represents the entire area.

Of course, I may be wrong, and the majority of citizens may want walls. If that’s the case, we better get to building those 18 foot walls everywhere.

PSA: Use Google Maps for busing information instead of the Park City Transit MyStop Mobile App

I still wouldn’t call myself a busing convert, but I had another good experience today. Today I took the Electric Express Bus from the KJ Transit Center to Old Town. There I caught a bus directly to Deer Valley. It probably took 10 more minutes than if I would have driven on my own, but it probably was a wash because the bus dropped me off at Snow Park Lodge (versus walking from the Lot 4 or 5 at DV). The fact the the Electric Express bus comes every 10 minutes makes it work. Without that, there is no way I would be on a bus.

One of the things that became clear, though, is that unless you’re a regular, figuring out which bus to take is a chore. On my way back I ran into a father and son from Boston. They were trying to head back to PCMR from Main Street. They had found their way to the Old Town Transit Center but barely. Four people had given them bad directions on how to get back to PCMR. I pulled out the trusty MyStop Mobile app and found they could take at the red bus or they could hop on the Electric Express Bus. The red bus would take them directly there, but it wasn’t coming for a while (and they would leant to make sure they were catching it on the way back to PCMR and not to Deer Valley). The Electric Express, coming in a minute, would drop them at Freshies and they would have to walk across the street about 3 minutes to PCMR.

The father and son hopped on the Electric Express with me but the bus driver had overheard the conversation. She said they should take Red Bus. They asked when it would arrive and she said in 5-10 minutes. They got off and I presume waited. Three minutes later those of us still on the Electric Express stopped at Fresh Market. They would have probably saved themselves 10 minutes on the express, or maybe more, but overall I hope it worked out.

So, I’m not a bus guy. I don’t know what best in class is in terms of bus timetables. What I do know is that for someone like me, figuring out the bus is hard. I would say that many people I rode with on the bus today would agree that it’s hard to figure out which bus to take. I’ve tried to use the MyStop Mobile app (pushed by Park City Transit) and it is good at showing you where buses are and telling you how late they are. But if you want to figure out which bus to take and when, good luck — at least from my experience.

With that in mind, I would recommend using Google Maps. Plug in your starting point and destination. Choose the public transport icon and it will tell you exactly what buses to take (by number and color). It will even tell you when you will probably arrive. Iif you are trying to figure out “how do I get from here to there,” it seems invaluable. It’ll also tell you what the cost and time would be with Lyft (hopefully similar to local transportation companies), so you can compare.

If you are looking for something to help you figure out how to use the bus effectively, we’d strongly suggest you give Google Maps a try.

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Am I an idiot for taking the bus?

So, my sister is in town and she has dinner reservations at Handle at 7 PM. I am planning on meeting her and taking the bus. I’m in Jeremy Ranch but I am going to drive to the KJ Transit Center. Buses leave every 10 minutes. So, I should be fine, right? I’ll check in along the ride.

Update 6:10pm

Arrived kJ. Planning on taking one of the electric express (ee) buses that run every 10 minutes. One ee bus is here but no driver.

6:14pm

Another ee bus arrives. Someone asks why it is 50 minutes late. Driver says everything is screwed up.

6:18pm

Driver opens up first bus and directs us on. She tells bus driver that it took 45 minutes outbound but inbound should be faster.

6:19 pm

And we are off. 9 minute wait isn’t too bad.

6:39pm

Arrive. Not bad. Traffic inbound seemed light, but that’s great. Also, since Handle is across the street from the transit center, it is almost perfect.

10:20pm

Outbound on another bus. Had to wait about 5 minutes.

10:45pm

Arrive at the KJ Transit Center.

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All in all it was a good busing experience. It sounds like earlier, that the outbound buses from PC were way delayed but I didn’t experience that. I found the buses almost empty. While that may not be good overall, it made for a pleasant trip.