Highland Flats Reignites Park City Affordable Housing Debate

Another patch of open space in Park City, another battlefield over development. This particular parcel, a 40-acre spot near the intersection of US-40 and I-80, is the potential future home of a development called Highland Flats, which like all potential new development has spurred heated debate in Park City. There are signs about it visible along Old Ranch Road, highlighting the displeasure of certain local factions just as there were with regarding the ongoing Hideout saga.  The proposed development is for 410 residential units, a third of which would be designated as affordable housing for primary residents making between 30-80% of the average medium income.

On Feb. 23, the Summit County Planning Commission held a public hearing on the topic, which featured withering criticism from residents of nearby Highland Estates. Following a presentation with legal representatives for the developers on March 9, commissioners voted unanimously against the residential rezoning required for the project. Nevertheless, the commissioners acknowledged the dire need for affordable housing in the Park City area and praised the project’s goals, if not its planned execution. The next step for developers is to make their case to the Summit County Council while making a push to rally more public support.

“We are pleased the planning commission will continue its evaluation of our important proposal. Our vision has always been to provide a safe, high-quality, and most importantly an economically attainable housing product to workforce residents within the boundaries of the Summit County. In every data- driven exercise conducted by the County, we have witnessed a very significant, and even compelling, public interest to provide this type of living,” says Lance Bullen of Colmena Group, a partner in the development via a press release. “If not at this location, which provides preferable I-40 access, public transit assets, contiguous developable property with favorable topography, then where? It would be a travesty if the voices of a few drown out the need articulated by so many.”  

The very real and concerning issue of affordable housing often gets caught up in the debate regarding the endless churn of development in Park City. Keeping track of it all is difficult enough with euphemistic development names and byzantine zoning requirements muddling the issue. Most people don’t have the time or inclination to sort through it all, so development gets painted with a broad brush. Throw in a dose of NIMBYism, and reasonable discussion becomes difficult. Few would make a good faith argument against the need for affordable housing in the Park City area, but put new affordable housing anywhere in their proximity, and suddenly everyone wants to shut the door behind them.

The continual rise in Park City housing prices along with an increased need for workers in town has created unsustainable stalemates. How do you address the housing crisis without increasing development? How do you decrease traffic congestion without eliminating the daily need for some of the 16,000 workers to commute to Park City? How do you fill open employment positions without anywhere for people to live or a convenient commute? You can’t.

As such, many local employers support affordable housing initiatives, including the Sundance Institute, PC Tots, DBR Joints (operators of No Name Saloon, the Bonyeard and more) and the Montage. In contrast, many residents—through comment sections social media posts—have noted employers are doing little to address the workforce shortage themselves whether by helping provide housing or raising wages that make commuting more palatable. Easy answers aren’t easy to come by. In the meantime, developers have vowed to follow through on their efforts to provide affordable housing units at Highland Flats—albeit while turning a nice profit—while city and county officials keep looking for solutions to address housing woes. Debate is certain to be fierce as factions advocate for their interests, and we’ll provide updates as the proposal progresses.

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Tony Gill
Tony Gillhttps://www.saltlakemagazine.com/
Tony Gill is the outdoor and Park City editor for Salt Lake Magazine and previously toiled as editor-in-chief of Telemark Skier Magazine. Most of his time ignoring emails is spent aboard an under-geared single-speed on the trails above his home.

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