Nothing stirs Summit County residents quite like a development debate. The potent mixture of NIMBYs, developers, profiteers, conservationists and more creates a cosmic gumbo of opinion, motive and messaging. The most recent battleground is Park City’s entrance corridor in Kimball Junction, where developers for Dakota Pacific have been fighting to rezone a fledgling tech campus into a vast mixed use residential and commercial area in the face of vehement local opposition. But now it appears as if all the energy thrown at the issue will be for naught, as the Utah Legislature passed a law taking the decision out of Summit County’s hands while gifting the win to developers.
Essentially, language added into Senate Bill 84 at the last moment by Rep. Casey Snider—which was never discussed on the floor—allows developers in counties which are non-compliant with Housing and Transit Reinvestment Zone (HTRZ) planning to build up to 39 units per acre as long as 10 percent of the units are classified as affordable housing. Summit County was deemed out of compliance as they did not formally apply for approval of their HTRZ, which promotes affordable housing development around transit hubs.
The bill’s passage effectively removes Summit County’s ability to approve or deny the rezoning request for a major development within its boundaries. “It might as well say Summit County on the legislation,” says Roger Armstrong, Summit County Council Chair. “Dakota Pacific has a pending application before the Summit County Council, and they’ve helped author language for the legislature that effectively vests the exact uses they’ve asked for.”
The area, on the west side of S.R. 224 in Kimball Junction was originally planned as a tech development, but attracting businesses proved difficult and the property remained largely undeveloped. Dakota Pacific purchased the property in 2018 knowing the restrictions in place and has sought approval for a mixed-use development ever since. Opposition has been fierce, led by groups like Friends for Responsible Development (FRD). FRD did not respond to numerous requests for comment, however in a public statement issued in late February said, “John Miller and Dakota Pacific have worked the back halls of the Utah State Capitol” and “in a move that is 100% corrupt and beyond egregious have seized Summit County’s land-use authority.”
Representatives from Dakota Pacific likewise did not respond to multiple requests for comment. However, they have publicly positioned their plans for the area as a necessary boon to the community describing affordable housing in Summit County as “urgently needed.”
Armstrong counters that while housing availability is a valid issue, the narrative is a disingenuous attempt to further an agenda. “The narrative is that Summit County is allergic to housing, and that’s just not true,” he says. “There are more than 1,100 deed-restricted units as part of various projects in Summit County, which is way over the 10 percent required. We’ve invited legislators to come take a look at what we’re doing, and they just ask, ‘what’s your problem with affordable housing?’ Even with affordable housing included in projects, the market rate housing ends up so impossibly expensive the middle gets left out.”
The future of Summit County is unwritten, especially with the prospect of another Olympics on the horizon. So, what’s the correct balance between progress and preservation? It’s a difficult one to strike, but Armstrong warns of a positive feedback loop. “We take dirt from one hole to fill another and end up with a deeper hole,” he says. Adding to the population requires more services, which requires an ever-greater number of employees like law enforcement officers, teachers, fire and EMS personnel and staff for necessary services like grocery stores and gas stations. The result is the exact same discussions about land use, housing, traffic and affordability down the line.
“The Governor’s position is essentially, ‘Build baby build,’” Armstrong says. “But when can we say we’re at a stable level of development with housing available and good businesses for the community as a whole? We have to maintain some influence over that locally.”
Who’s Funding These Changes?
Ethics concerns pervade the passage HTRZ amendments in SB 94 and HB 446. Dan Hemmert, who previously owned a financial stake in the Dakota Pacific Project is now a lobbyist for the company. He oversaw the transit zone development program as head of the Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity until the end of 2022, and on January 18, 2023, registered as a lobbyist for Dakota Pacific. Casey Snider, who introduced the pertinent language changes received $4,270 in political contributions from the Utah Association of Realtors and $1,000 from the Utah Homebuilders Association. Utah Speaker of the House Brad Wilson has received $40,093 and $9,650 from the same organizations and House Majority Leader Mike Schultz $12,000 and $2,900 respectively. While far from the only lawmakers receiving such funding, it raises valid questions about who’s benefiting from decisions impacting Utah communities.
Contribution findings based on publicly available information See: followthemoney.org.
See more stories like this and all of our culture and community coverage. And while you’re here, why not subscribe and get six annual issues of Salt Lake magazine’s curated guide to the best of life in Utah.