There are a few things in the Park City area that nearly every local agrees upon. One of those is the need for affordable housing. Unfortunately during the last few years, not much affordable housing has come online. It appears that Summit County is trying to accelerate that process. The question is, at what cost?
Last week, the Summit County Council met in joint session with the Snyderville Basin Planning Commission to discuss affordable housing at Silver Creek Village. Silver Creek Village is the new development by the Home Depot. Once completed it will be one of the most populous neighborhoods in the Park City area. There are also a sizable number of affordable units as part of the project.
According to Mountainlands Community Housing Trust Executive Director, Scott Loomis, this is the type of affordable housing the community needs. It will a mix of rental and purchase units. A portion of the affordable units will be target to those making 25% of area medium income (AMI). That would be about a $25,000 annual salary.
There aren’t many of these types of units available in the Snyderville Basin currently. In fact, we often shake our heads when we hear the terms affordable or attainable housing. That’s because sometimes they are $400,000 or $500,000. That’s not exactly cheap or something attainable by a person making just over minimum wage.
330 units are slated to be completed as part of the project. It’s been estimated that the area needs about 1,000 affordable units over the next five years. Silver Creek’s number, combined with the approximate 500 units (1000 beds) at the base of the Canyons, the 78 units at Park City Heights, and the 52 upcoming units as part of the Discovery project, means we would be close to meeting affordable housing needs.
Therefore, there’s a lot to be excited about with this project and the potential for affordable housing around Park city and the Snyderville Basin. So, what’s the issue?
It’s a matter of planning.
The Snyderville Basin General Plan, and the development agreement that represents Silver Creek Village, states that the affordable units must be integrated into the development. The idea of true integration is that for every four or five townhouses, condos, etc. there will be one affordable unit interspersed with the more expensive units. The idea is that you don’t put all affordable units in one area, because it’s not optimal for community integration. Economic segregation has shown to have negative mental and other health effects. It’s also shown to have negative impacts on children.
It really just makes sense. For one of the largest developments in the Park City area, do we want million dollar homes in one area and all the affordable housing put into another area? It seems reminiscent of the projects in 1970’s Chicago. No, it seems the optimal outcome would be to have affordable units mixed in with market rate units. This allows for economic diversity and probably cultural diversity, too.
Yet, the desire by the Summit County Council and Mountainlands Community Housing to push forward with little-to-no integration of units is glaring.
County Council Member Roger Armstrong says, “We can wait and design what may be perfectly integrated, and people feel like a part of the community, but we will still be further and further behind [with affordable housing].”
The other problem with non-integration, of course, is that it violates the Snyderville Basin General Plan — the document that guides development in the basin. The General Plan calls for affordable housing to be integrated into the development. Snyderville Basin Planning Commissioners cited the upcoming Discovery development (above Weilenman School) as a design that had become fairly integrated. So, it is possible top achieve.
Much of the talk during this meeting turned to whether the Planning Commission could find a way to define the development’s affordable housing as integrated. It looks like Mountainlands had already conceded that their original plan was not integrated, so they came up with a revised plan. The revised plans spreads out the affordable housing a bit, but it’s probably not truly integrated.
Planning Commissioner Chair Canice Harte commented that the design did look more integrated but that this was a the first time the commission had seen it. The Planning Comission is going to meet again in the upcoming weeks and discuss integration.
The problem, as we see it, is that community integration is a little like pornography — you’ll know it when you see it. When we look at the revised plan by Mountainlands we suppose it does look a little more integrated than the original plan. However, that is only because we are comparing it to a completely non-integrated design. On its own merits, we don’t think the community will be truly integrated with the new design. Of course the Planning Commission could see it differently.
The other problem we see is that even having the meeting is a sign of throwing out the rules. This meeting was held, the best we could tell, so that the Planning Commission could be convinved that they should not worry about integration…. and then if they did… to tell the County Council… so the County Council could amend the development agreement so that it didn’t have to be integrated. Mountainlands Director Scott Loomis said he even had the amendment ready to go, and intimated that it may have already been agreed upon. If that’s true, and it’s now standard operating procedure, every applicant for development who runs into issues should be able to have a joint meeting with the County Council and Planning Commission to work out differences. The fact that this meeting even happened seems outside the norm.
We’re not blind to reality, though. We understand why many of the council members want to move forward quickly. They are pushed by the public and have run on platforms of addressing affordable housing. It’s also true that there is a dearth of affordable housing and not much has been actually accomplished on that front. It has to be frustrating.
The argument for ignoring integration is that you can front-load building of affordable housing. You can build a large amount of affordable housing in a few areas at the beginning of the project. It can get affordable housing up quickly. Conversely, if you want a truly integrated design, these affordable units would be built over the next 15 years, as the development is built. So, it would take a while to build them and the area wouldn’t get an immediate affordable housing infusion. It’s also likely that some of the affordable housing would be done by the developers of the market-rate units. This would likely mean they would charge as much as they could for each unit and not make units available to people making $25,000 a year. So, there are advantages to damning the torpedoes and going full speed ahead.
That said, one of the first things we learned about development in Park City sticks out. You have to make good decisions before you build something because you can’t unbuild it. The decisions made on this will last forever and since this development is so large, we as a community have to get it right.
It’s also important to point out that not everyone on the County Council thinks this is a good development for affordable housing. Long-time developer and County Council member Doug Clyde said during the meeting, “This thing is a village in only name. I’ve been Developing for 30 years and I’ve never had a project not called a village. This is not a village. There is no walkable community here. There are no restaurants. There are no stores here. It will never be that sort of density. This is a bad place for apartments… because they are going to have two types of [driving] trips… one to work, one from work, one to the store, one from the store, one to the school, one from the school. Putting apartments up here is putting five times as many trips on the road as if they [workers] come from Salt Lake. It’s a bad place for them. It’s a bad location… Frankly, I’d rather see less workforce housing. I’d rather see fewer units because I don’t think this area will ever be positively serviced by transit.”
Mr Clyde knows his business and in the long-term there is a good chance he’ll be proven right. However, we are confident that one way or another there are going to be over 300 units of affordable housing at Silver Creek. It’s just a matter of how it is done and when.
We think we owe it to the long-term vision of the Park City area to do this one right. In some ways, this one already seems a little tainted. However, we do still have the opportunity to make sure we are doing this in the right way — adhering to the values that have been set forth in the General Plan.
If we don’t, it will likely be another of those developments that looks very foolish in hindsight. It will be one of the developments someone looks at in 15 years and says, “how did they ever let that happen?”. We may get 300 units of affordable housing in 2019 but at what long-term cost.