In the case of Park City, they are shadows of both the way things are and what is yet to come.
Friday afternoon, traffic backed up from the Kimball Junction exit ramp of I-80, onto to Ute Boulevard, up past the library, through the roundabout, past Walmart, past the new Whole Foods, through the second roundabout, and into the Tanger Outlet Mall. A Parkite reported that it took him 20 minutes to get from 224 to the roundabout.
The larger concern is what happens once the new Whole Foods is completed. That turns this once a year inconvenience, into a daily nightmare.
But before you think this is just another whinge-fest or your eyes glaze over with thoughts of CARMAGEDDON dancing in your head, let’s dive a little deeper into why we are in this mess.
First, let’s get the oft-cited cause for traffic out of the way. Yes, Park City is a desirable place to live and to visit. Yes, in 20 years there will be a billion people here. However let’s talk about yesterday, today and tomorrow — not 2030.
Do you remember when Walmart wasn’t a Super Center? Do you remember when the Village at Kimball had about half as many stores as it does now? Do you remember when the outlet mall didn’t have the expanded area on the north side? We assume you remember when the new Whole Foods was just a parking lot, since it was a couple of months ago.
What do all these have in common? They were conscious decisions by our county leaders to LET these happen.
Would there be as much traffic along Landmark drive if Walmart didn’t have a grocery? Probably not … but in 2008, the County Comission voted 2-1 to allow Walmart to expand (Commissioner Sally Elliot voted against it).
Would there be as much traffic in Kimball Junction if Smith’s was smaller and there was no Cafe Zupas, Five Guys, Jimmy Johns, Simply Mac, Spectrum Salon, AT&T Store, Barking Cat, Pure Barre, Park City Bread and Bagel, and Vessel Kitchen? Probably not … but in 2012, the Syderville Basin Planning Commission, and ultimately the County Council, allowed the expansion.
Would there be as much traffic if the Tager Outlet mall was smaller? Probably not … but in 2014 the County Council approved a 23,000 square foot increase and allowed the expansion.
Starting next spring (and forever) will there be more traffic due to the new Whole Foods? Definitely.
The upcoming Whole Foods is an interesting example. The Snyderville Basin Planning Commission debated whether (and how) to allow Whole Foods to set up shop across from Walmart for months. They knew it would be a traffic nightmare and debated the minutia, inlcuding how people would turn out of the parking lot and whether it made sense to have more roundabouts. Yet, only one member dissented to the Whole Foods, Commissioner Bea Peck. According the meeting minutes of the final vote, “Commissioner Peck acknowledged the efforts the applicant and Staff have made, and she believed this would be a great plan and opportunity for Whole Foods, but she did not believe Landmark Drive is the right place for it. The more she hears about extraordinary efforts being made to try to address the traffic that will be generated, the more she is convinced this is the wrong place. It is a good plan and a good development, but she does not see how it can fit on Landmark Drive.”
Somehow Ms. Peck came to the same conclusion that most Parkites would have. Thank you, Ms. Peck.
If you were to ask each of the leaders that voted for any of these expansions, they would have a reason. Many times it’s that the property has an affordable housing component. In the case of the Whole Foods, there are 20 affordable housing units.
Other times, there are benefits to other local groups. In the case of the outlet mall expansion, Tanger was going to give over $500,000 in gift cards to the Peace House and affordable housing (it turned out a little different due to some legal complications around the gift cards).
Sometimes, they just think it’s the right thing to do. For instance, on Whole Foods, Planning Commissioner Mike Franklin “commented that the applicant is entitled to build on this property, and they have worked hard and been before the Planning Commission four times. Taking everything else into consideration, he believes the applicant is entitled to this because of property rights,” according to meeting minutes.
What we believe, is that these decisions really come down to a person’s world view. For instance on Whole Foods, the Park Rag’s argument would be that the land where it sits was part of a previous agreement called Canyon Corners. The original (and approved) Canyon Corners design had more, small buildings, with the same square footage of space. However that property had sat there dormant for over a decade (and very well may have stayed that way for another decade). The Snyderville Basin Planning Commission DID NOT have to let the plan change to accommodate Whole Foods. In our opinion, the only reason to allow a change would have been for the PERFECT design — and not a horrible compromise.
If traffic is our biggest concern, we need people with the world-view of limiting traffic as a chief concern. While our County Council did enact language in our General Plan that said there would be no new entitlements (i.e., we won’t let more to be built on existing land than is currently allowed), somehow Whole Foods wasn’t viewed with the same spirit. This really comes down to:
- Electing county council persons who will consider traffic with every vote they make
- Electing county council persons who will pick Snyderville Basin Planning Commissioners who will consider traffic with every vote they make
- Electing County Attorneys based on whether they believe they can find ways to support our County Council in limiting development that will increase traffic.
We do want to be clear. We are in full support of a person’s property rights. If a person or company has the right to build something, then by all means they should be able to build, and our government should work with them to limit traffic impacts. However, what we shouldn’t be doing is approving expansions that aren’t required, that we know will cause a mess, find no way to mitigate that mess, and then spend years trying to fix the mess. How about we don’t let the mess happen in the first place?
We also want to be clear that we like Whole Foods. We also understand why they wanted to move. They just shouldn’t be moving to Landmark Drive. In ten years, they will likely have wished they moved out by the Home Depot.
Finally, we also don’t want to give the impression we are blind to other factors that encourage development. It’s not lost on us that in 2012, the county, still suffering from the Great Recession, may have wanted to spur the economy (and tax dollars) by allowing things like the expansion of the Village at Kimball. We understand that traffic hasn’t always been concern number 1… but now it appears as it is. It seems we like to say that Parkites are willing to be taxed if it is for the broader good. However, maybe we are also willing to forgo some bad development, even if it means higher taxes.
As we look forward, its not hard to see this pattern repeating itself. We need to make sure that our school district doesn’t fall into this same trap. Can you imagine what adding a 5/6 school would do to traffic by Ecker Hill? During the bond debate, the School District’s stance was that the county would need to figure out the traffic impacts on Kilby Rd, if a new school was added to the Ecker Hill campus. That’s just not right. It’s no longer acceptable to just do something and then expect someone else to use magic to clean up the mess.
Another example is traffic along Kilby Road between Summit Park and Fresh Market. Gorgoza wants to add all sorts of recreation to their sledding hill but their agreement to expand has expired. Word is that the County Attorney’s office feels Gorgoza’s rights have vested — meaning, we guess, that they can develop whatever they want there. Now the County Council and Planning Commission are debating the height of a building. It’s another case of fiddling while Rome is burning. If everyone considered traffic first, it’s likely someone would have come up with a solution to limit this expansion in the first place (since the original agreement expired).
Yes, Park City is a desirable place. However, the more we look at traffic issues, the more it seems some of this has been self inflicted by our leaders. While we can’t go back, we need to stop making the same mistakes.
Just like Scrooge, we have the opportunity to change our ways — but just like Scrooge — our time is running out.
h/t to Sam R for tipping us off on the traffic jam and the use of his picture