Last week, the Summit County Council voted by a 3-2 margin to approve a height exception for an indoor recreation facility at Gorgoza. In most of the Snyderville Basin, the maximum height of a building allowed is 32 feet. The council allowed a 45.5 feet tall building, adjacent to Kilby Road by the sledding hill at Gorgoza.
The facility, coined Woodward at Gorgoza, was part of a development agreement approved in 1999 that lead to the sledding hill many of us have enjoyed. The original agreement also allowed for an outdoor ice rink, bmx track, trails, and a small cabin. The development agreement expired a few years ago, and now the developer wants to build a 50,000 square foot building taller than allowed per our development code.
While the entire project will go through the Snyderville Basin Planning Commission, the Summit County Council decided to allow a height exception. We view this as a dangerous precedent. It seems Summit County Council Chair had concerns over precedent as well. According to preliminary minutes from the council vote on the topic, “Chair Armstrong said his concern is to create a precedent for other applicants. The Council needs to make sure that the door is not opened for other projects that may not meet standards or principals of an agreement.”
The reasoning behind allowing the special exception seems to stem from a belief that Woodward at Gorgoza fits the type of development some county council members want in Park City, some County Councilors believe it helps the community families, and the developer says they have to have extra height to function. It’s a logical position; however, if this is the bar for a special exception, we are a little concerned. Almost any development could have this criteria applied.
Should a 50 foot tall Sam’s Club be allowed in the Basin? Walmart may argue that they need the height in order to stack pallets on top of aisles. Walmart may then argue that by having a warehouse store locally, it reduces the car trips to Salt Lake. They may also argue this is good for the community because it would increase our tax base and make it easier for the community to shop. Finally, Walmart would say that Summit County approved this type of exception before, with similar reasons. Why not again?
This sort of logic could also extend to county-sponsored developments. Should the county be allowed to build six story condos on the Cline Dahle parcel (between the Jeremy Ranch Elementary and Burt Brothers)? The county could argue that to make the transit oriented development sufficiently dense for public transportation, they need thousands of affordable housing units on the property. The only way to do that is to go up. They would then argue that affordable housing and transportation are important for the community.
We don’t argue that need and community good are two important factors regarding special exceptions. However, it seems there should be an extremely high bar for special exceptions — like public safety. It seems like a special exception should be granted as a last resort, because we have to and not because we want to. Anything else seems like a slippery slope that could set the precedent for bad developments around the Snyderville Basin.