“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.