Tom Clyde: Habitat of the hare | ParkRecord.com
There are some big developments in the news. They pose surprisingly similar problems. One is the Tech Center project near the Visitor Information Center and Skullcandy Buildings at Kimball Junction. The other is the PEG companies’ proposal for the parkings at Park City Mountain Resort. They each have approvals in place that are both old and quite specific. Both applicants request significant revisions to these old approvals. One falls under the jurisdiction of the city, the other that of the county.
The Tech Center was approved years ago for the purpose of diversifying our economy. The idea was to build an office park where tech companies, like Skullcandy, would locate their offices and hire lots of technicians. The problem quickly became obvious: our messy real estate market makes it impossible to hire locally. The employees don’t want to commute from Salt Lake, and all the tech action has shifted south to Lehi anyway. There is no market for office space on this scale, and the proposal is to abandon the technological concept and build a mixed-use project comprising 1,100 residential units.
On the PCMR car parks, the hotel plan has been under construction for decades. The current plan includes employee housing, hotel rooms, commercial space and replacement parking. However, the applicant wants a reduction in the parking requirements for the new construction. Apparently, the idea is that hotel guests will not have a car, and employees in the hotel and retail areas will arrive at work via some form of teleportation. Day skiers can park at the grocery store. There are also height issues. They therefore asked to modify the pre-approval.
The city and county have been scrutinizing these nominations for what appears to be an unreasonable time. Call it an abusive process. Efforts have been made to take advantage of the requested changes to achieve “community benefits”. In both cases, the main community benefit appears to be “world-class bus terminals” and affordable housing. While both are useful to the community, I’m struggling to find a net benefit for either project.
In the case of the Tech Center, adding 1,100 residential units to the heart of the county’s craziest traffic doesn’t make sense, even though some units are “affordable.” At three people per household, that makes over 3,000 new friends and neighbors. A 7% increase in the county’s population in one block. That’s more people than living in Kamas, all crammed into 60 acres. It seems to be based on the magical thought that they will all take the bus. It is not known how many of them will travel to Salt Lake. It’s a huge impact on schools, water systems, sewers, roads, air and everything in between. The developer has agreed to participate in Kimball Junction upgrades that may partially mitigate the negative impacts, but the area is pretty much beyond repair now.
PCMR really needs an attractive and attractive basic installation. What there is now is a mishmash of different properties, designs and functions. He is old and has not aged very well. Sometimes the old becomes picturesque. In this case, old is just old. The PEG project does not solve it. Rather, it adds yet another generation of uncoordinated stuff. Efforts to mitigate negative impacts do little.
In either case, owners have the legal right to develop their properties and can do so under existing permits. Dark. There is no obligation on the part of the city or county to grant more, or to change things to suit current market conditions. There is no shortage of hotel rooms in town, and the hotels we have cannot hire staff to manage them. There is no community need for the PCMR project.
For decades, it was felt that when growth started to falter, there were ways out. Widen SR 224, build Deer Valley Drive, put on a few traffic lights, build a few hundred apartments in the Bonanza Park neighborhood, the China Bridge garage. There was always a solution. For a long time it worked. I do not see how we can get out of the current problems. We have reached (or exceeded) our comfortable capacity. Growth problems tend to be presented as a choice between density or spread. We did both. What if we decided to do neither?
These large developments can operate under their existing approvals. There is no benefit to the community in modifying them to allow more density, create more congestion or reduce parking. The hare habitat at Tech Center is a real blessing for the community. It is not our fault that there is no market for office space. Perhaps part of the solution to workforce housing problems is to reduce the workforce. Businesses can figure out how to provide an acceptable level of service with fewer people. We can all go back to our expectations a few notches, recognizing that waiting longer for dinner affects the system in terms of less traffic, less demand for subsidized housing, etc.
Rather than comparing existing approvals to proposed changes, we should compare existing approvals with vacant lots. No bus stop chic enough to offset the negative impacts of adding 3,000 people to Kimball Junction. If the owners want to build what is approved, that is their right. There is simply no good reason to change approvals to encourage construction. Don’t give an inch.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.