It’s usually not a great sign when high-ranking federal officials visit Summit County on official business. The reflected shine may provide a temporarily warm feeling for our community’s moment in the spotlight, but it’s usually the result of some untenable problem we’re inadequately addressing that makes for a nice photo-op of concerned faces.
Take U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s midsummer visit to tout the Promoting Resilient Operations for Transformative, Efficient, and Cost-Saving Transportation (PROTECT) Act. Buttigieg spent time overlooking the aftermath of last year’s Parleys Canyon Fire—which threatened thousands of Snyderville Basin homes—and discussing how infrastructure could protect residents. Yet another fire was ignited by a truck along I-80 two months later just a stone’s throw away—it was controlled quickly by fire crews—showing there may be some infrastructure work left to do there.
So, when Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Regional Administrator Dominique Jackson stopped by to address the affordable housing shortage in the area, I reached for the metaphorical fire extinguisher. It’s no secret skyrocketing prices exacerbated by pandemic-fueled migration, short term rentals and fractional ownership through LLCs have exhausted the supply of reasonably priced housing and decimated the community’s workforce. The trend, mirrored in other regional resort towns is fueled largely by NIMBYISM according to Jackson, a sentiment shared by Park City’s Mayor Nann Worel.
In Park City this often takes the form of “concerned citizens” organizing to derail affordable housing often under the guise of wanting “responsible development,” which is commonly a euphemism for protecting property values. Some opposition is already brewing in response to a recent proposal for a public-private workforce housing project on Homestake Road. The proposal from the Centerville-based J. Fisher Company would build 123 rental units on a 1.86-acre lot owned by the city, 80 percent of which would be allocated for workforce housing with the remainder being market-rate units.
If approved, the development would provide critical, long-term workforce housing that would be ideal for young families due to its centralized location and walkable distance from schools, resorts, restaurants and grocery stores.
123 units aren’t enough to fix widespread labor shortages, but it’s a step in the right direction that actually helps people live in the communities they work in. Obstacles remain, primarily due to parking and traffic concerns. Nearby businesses worry overflow parking exceeding the 131-stall capacity will flow into their lots, and area residents have already begun wringing hands over the thought of adding vehicles to the road.
Still, some progress is being made on this front. New for this winter, Park City Mountain has housing for 441 resort employees at the Canyons Village base area. It’s part of a major effort, in conjunction with increased wages and benefits, on behalf of the resort to attract and retain employees and alleviate staffing issues plaguing businesses throughout the community. “Housing availability is essential for the sustainability and vitality of all resort communities, as well as our business. Our goal with all of our wage and housing investments is a fully staffed, engaged and supported team,” says Park City Mountain spokesperson Sara Huey. “This prime location ensures convenient access to work, to public transportation and to all the wonderful experiences Park City has to offer. Having such a significant number of resort employees will provide consistent availability of staff members to create an outstanding guest experience at the resort.”
Park City Mountain’s investment is admirable, but not one smaller local businesses have the resources to duplicate. That’s why the city’s efforts to develop affordable housing solutions are so essential. Worel has expressed the city’s goal to provide some housing units with a 60 percent of area median income (AMI) limit, but details remain sparse. Further, some business owners contend the 60 percent AMI limit, which amounts to $56,160, is too high and will still price out many local workers.
Simply put, developing affordable housing in Park City is a Sisyphean task. Fundamentally, it’s an inventory problem we can’t come close to correcting, especially with citizens fighting development at every turn. I appreciate HUD coming to town, but I can’t shake the feeling once again we’ve merely identified hurdles without any plans to clear them.
What Is Inclusionary Zoning and Why Are People Talking About It?
Inclusionary zoning refers to requirements for developers to build a certain amount of affordable housing—20 percent of new units in Snyderville Basin—to be reserved for families earning 80 percent or less of AMI. A 2022 law, H.B. 303 grandfathered in the ability for the county to maintain that level of inclusionary zoning where it was already in place, but limits the power to enact these requirements in new areas, such as the East Side where future development is likely. It’s yet another obstacle facing affordable housing in Summit County.