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Read Our Lips: No New Entitlements

When the most recent Snyderville Basin General Plan was being finalized there was a debate over a section of the plan called Policy 2.3. It states:

“Do not approve any new entitlements beyond those permitted by the Development Code until such time that existing entitlements are significantly exhausted, unless the County legislative body first determines that:

  • a compelling countervailing public interest, specifically identified in the General Plan exists and cannot be reasonably satisfied without expanding one or more entitlement(s);
  • such new entitlement(s) do not simply result in an incidental benefit to the public interest, but rather such entitlement(s) are intended primarily to promote such compelling countervailing public interest; and
  • Any new entitlement(s) are consistent with the Neighborhood Planning Area Plans and the Snyderville Basin General Plan’s Future Land Use Maps, as amended.”

What’s a new entitlement? Essentially every piece of land in Summit County has rights vested on it. Some are vested for houses (perhaps someone owns 100 acres, where there has to be 20 acres per house… so that would mean 5 houses could be built). Some are vested for neighborhood commercial (perhaps some small retail establishments can be built). Some land has been vested as Town Centers (like Kimball Junction). In fact, there are lots of different types of zones in Summit County, but in essence a new entitlement would be something in excess of what an owner currently has the right to do with his or her land.

Why policy 2.3 was put into place was that there is so much vested, but unbuilt development around the Basin that the community felt that we needed to put things on hold until we both understood what it all meant and had some better planning tools (i.e. potentially something like the ability to transfer density rights from one property to another) in place.

Recently two developments have started the process of testing this policy. The first is Pace Meadows, which is a development east of Highway 40 (By Home Depot) and currently has the right to build up to 38 homes (units) on a total of 450 acres. Instead of 38 homes, the owners are proposing “a mix of regional and neighborhood commercial and retail uses, market rate townhouses, market rate lots, and a mix of affordable housing lots and units.”

The second is The Colby School Low Impact Permit (LIP), which proposes a 15 room hotel, event center, yoga studio, restaurant, cafe/bakery, and 40 cabins where the Colby School was on Highway 224. This project is a little different because the site, before it was the Colby school, was sort of a hotel. Since it had those rights previously, the County Attorney has determined the land still has those rights. However, the development wants to also consume 8 acres of land called “The Brookside Lots” and house cabins and a bath house (and therapy rooms). Currently this land is zoned rural residential, which typically means one house (unit) per 20 acres (sometimes per 40 acres). Commercial activity is not permitted.

So, how do these development test policy 2.3? They both appear to add new entitlements — or said another way — they are attempting to do more stuff on the land than they have the right to do today. Developers are also looking for ways to justify the changes.

In the case of Pace Meadows, the applicant provided a report analyzing the development density of surrounding neighborhoods as justification for the proposed density. They also seem to be trying to find a way to “convert” residential density to commercial density so that it does not mathematically increase density.

In the case of The Colby School LIP, the applicant appears to be attempting to combine the Brookside lots with the current Colby School, thus grandfathering it under previous agreements and then saying less square footage will be developed with the new plan than with what was possible when it was a residential lot.

I can’t blame the developers for trying. They are paid to find a way to get things done. I can’t blame the Planning Department. They process the applications that people submit. I can’t blame the Planning Commission. They have to sort through a very complicated mess and come up with a decision.

What I can say is that I don’t believe what these developers appear to be trying meets the public intent for Policy 2.3. While we can get wrapped up in calculations, legalese, and word-games, the real question is what does the public want? They wanted to limit expanded development (in excess of what’s currently allowed) until we got a handle on things. They didn’t want 60,000 square feet of development to become 4 times that amount at the entrance to Jeremy Ranch.

What’s being attempted with these two developments is the poster child for why 2.3 was put in place. If we look at Pace Meadows, right down the road we have the upcoming Silver Creek Village. If we only took that one development, wouldn’t it make sense to wait to see how Silver Creek is shaping up before we allow more commercial entitlements? Especially, since the General Plan says we are holding off for now? If we look at the Colby School LIP, wouldn’t it make sense to see how the Hyatt place at Snyderville functions before allowing even residential lots to be transformed into cabins for a hotel?

These are only two isolated examples. If we look broader, we still haven’t had the community discussions about where our growth should happen. We haven’t talked about whether we like concepts like TDR’s (Transfer of Density Rights) where we may be able to save some of our open space by transferring development rights to specific places targeted for centers of commercial activity.

Instead we have developers trying to push us into what could be huge mistakes. The developers may say that the 450 acres on the east side of Highway 40 would be better suited for a super market, restaurants, retail, a funeral home, townhouses, condos, etc than it would be for the currently approved 30+ homes. Personally, would I rather see a mini-Promontory type development over there or would I rather see something like a Kohls, an IGA, a Bombay Company, a Burger King, three coffee shops, a salon, a strip mall, and a funeral home? UH, given what I know now I’ll take the mini-Promontory thank you. Likewise, if they wanted to build homes there, they likely would have done it. So, there is probably a decent chance that land sits empty for a few more years anyhow.

I have similar feelings for the Colby School LIP. They have the rights to build something commercial on their property already. Great, go do it. Do, I think we need more hotels… especially with our pitiful occupancy rate? No, but they have the right. That said, why allow them to expand their entitlements? What good does it do for the community?

I hope as the Planning Commission looks at both of these developments that they’ll step back and remember why Policy 2.3 was put into place and ask the question whether anything has changed in our community since the time the General Plan was passed. Do we have more clarity around where the public wants development? Do we have better tools in place to manage our development? Is allowing more of these types of development what the public wants?

If the answer is no to any of those, we have the perfect justification in place to stop increased entitlements. It’s General Plan Policy 2.3.

If the answer is yes, then let’s change the General Plan and let the public know the game is afoot again and that it’s time to get prepared for battle.


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