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General Plan Should Keep Language About No New Entitlements

On Wednesday, the Summit County Council held its first public hearing regarding the Snyderville Basin General Plan. The General Plan defines what the citizens of Summit County want to see with regard to development around the Basin. One of the hot-button items in the new plan is section 2.3 which states “Do not approve any new entitlements beyond base zoning until such time that existing entitlements are significantly exhausted.”

Each piece of land, be it your house, the land that Wal-mart sits on, or the land where Canyons is located has rules around what can be built there. At its most general, zoning defines how closely buildings can be built next to each other and the type of structures that can be built. You’ll often hear terms like 1 per 20 thrown around. This means that Summit County allows 1 unit of housing per 20 acres on that land. Typically most land in Summit County is 1 per 20 or 1 per 40 (acres). Then those rules are modified for areas like Kimball Junction, the Canyons, etc. through various concepts like different zoning (i.e. Town Centers like Kimball Junction), Specially Planned Areas (SPAs), etc.

Section 2.3 of the new General Plan basically says that the citizens of Summit County generally do not want additional development beyond what has already been promised. If you were to look at the amount of development that is already approved around the County (but unbuilt), you’d find that it is enormous. That previously approved development will already likely change the face of the Snyderville Basin in the coming years. This section of the General Plan attempts to say, “let’s use that up before we add to our problems.”

Opponents of section 2.3 bring up some valid arguments. They’ll say that land owners have a right to develop on their property and that some good things come out of adding entitlements (i.e., allowing someone to build more on a piece of land) in some some cases.

I completely agree that land owners have the right to build on their land, but I would caveat that it has to be within existing regulations. In some cases land has been owned for a hundred years, but in most cases land was bought with zoning already in place. It would be like me wanting to convert my house in Jeremy Ranch into an In and Out Burger. I bought the land knowing the zoning. While I may wish I could put a burger joint up, I have no right to do so. I, just like most everyone else who owns property here, have bought into a set of rules.

With regard to good things coming out of “up-zoning,” the Park Record’s article on the topic summarizes that argument well. Bill Coleman, a real-estate executive says, “The problem that exists in 2.3 is it’s indicating there will be no increase over-base zoning in spite of what might be a very good opportunity to develop something not unlike Silver Creek Village which is something that is actually solving more problems with lower price housing in the community.”

There-in lies the rub. If you are a real-estate exec, Silver Creek’s 1000 extra units (that can be sold and bought) are a good deal (just think of the commissions!). Mr Coleman is also right that less expensive housing will probably bring more buyers, and more people to the Basin, and I see why he likes it . My question is, will the people across Highway 40 in Silver Summit like it? If I were a home buyer, should I buy a new home for $450,000 in the new Silver Creek Village or should I buy a 15 year old home for $500,000 in Silver Summit? You won’t have to worry long because those homes in Silver Summit will come down in price to some happy medium that makes sense (probably less than the new homes).

Then if you look at the new 1000 + home in Silver Creek, you as a taxpayer are going to hate it. Another exit, or change to the traffic pattern, is going to have to happen there. From most reports, the roundabout built by Home Depot, that was built specifically because of this project, probably won’t handle the traffic. So we tax payers are going to be on the hook for a couple more million dollars to fix the traffic problem.

Then let’s not forget about the schools. Silver Creek Village, the area Mr Coleman is talking about above, is in the South Summit School District. Yet, I bet most of those parents are not going to want to drive to Kamas and Heber to take their kids to school. Why drive 25 minutes when Trailside Elementary is a stone’s throw and Park City High is a 5 minute drive away. So those kids will apply to Park City schools for open enrollment where we spend even more money on them, without being reimbursed by the state in proportion to costs, which just ends up hurting our kids.

So, if the best reason Mr Coleman can come up with is Silver Creek Village, his argument doesn’t appear to hold much weight. The problem with increased development, generally, is that it is complicated. It is fraught with unexpected consequences and no one really knows what will happen down the road. When you put development on hold (within existing rights) you are pretty sure what will happen.

That’s why I support leaving section 2.3 in the General Plan. I believe limiting additional entitlements for a while supports the views of most people in the Snyderville Basin. Of course, I could be wrong. County Council member Roger Armstrong is right that we should continue the discussion to make sure. That said, I would be shocked if most people were for allowing me to build an In and Out Burger on my 1/2 acre in Jeremy Ranch or other large scale development around the Basin that isn’t already approved.

The one change I would make is to the timing of this limit. Basin resident Pete Gillwald was worried about how long this limit would go on (3 years … 5 years?). I agree with that — mostly because things can change. In section 2.3 it says limits will continue “until such time that existing entitlements are significantly exhausted.” I’m not sure what that really means. I would advocate that this, along with other sections of the General Plan (like receiving areas and transfer of density rights) be reviewed annually by the Planning Commission. That way should opinions change or other significant events occur, we as citizens can make sure we are still Ok with a limit on adding entitlements to land.

That said, for right now, I fully support limiting increased entitlements. Between Silver Creek Village, East Creek Ranch, Park City Heights, expansion of Quinn’s Junction (Peace House building, National Ability Center expanding, and potentially another ice rink), the Movie Studio opening, and a Hyatt being built on 224, the Snyderville Basin is going to be very different in two years. Why not wait a bit before we add more variables? Why not wait and make sure we understand the game we are playing?

Leaving Section 2.3 in the General Plan, and limiting increased entitlements, allows us to do that. I hope that our County Council will work to make sure this concept stays in the plan.


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