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Summit County Manager supports halting development in the Snyderville Basin to rewrite code

AP Photo/David J. Phillip
Associated Press
Utah law allows governments to halt development for up to six months for specific reasons. Several local communities have done so in recent years.

Citing the need to align community values with Summit County's guiding documents, the county’s highest-ranking staffer suggested a development moratorium, which could last up to 6 months.

At the tail end of a five-hour Summit County Council meeting Wednesday, Deputy County Manager Janna Young made an unexpected announcement.

She said she and Manager Tom Fisher support significantly revising the official documents that guide growth in the Snyderville Basin. And the work would be such an undertaking, the county should halt development and not evaluate new applications to give staffers time to focus on the effort.

“Certainly Tom (Fisher) is in favor of a total rewrite (of the code). He is in favor of a moratorium — it's that important,” Young said. “We need the staff capacity and bandwidth to focus on this.”

Her comments came two weeks after a marathon public input session that officials said surely broke attendance records.

To Summit County Councilor Roger Armstrong, one thing was made clear when hundreds of people showed up to protest the Tech Center development proposal.

Well, two things: One was that most of them didn’t want the project built. The other was the glaring discrepancy between public sentiment against the development proposal and the fact that it proceeded so far through the county’s approval process, apparently complying with major parts of the official plans that guide how the area grows.

“Right now we've got to make sure that we're playing the same music, because we're not. I’m positive that we're not,” Armstrong said. “We wouldn't have had the 900 people show up with torches and pitchforks and shotguns and red coats two weeks ago if we were on the same page. We wouldn’t have gotten that far down the road.”

Development in the Snyderville Basin is governed by a general plan and a development code. Similar documents exist for the East Side planning district. These are legal documents upon which developers base their proposals; they contain provisions like height limits and parking requirements along with general statements about community values and preferences. They also can be the basis for lawsuits, in which development lawyers argue their interpretation of the code is more accurate than the county’s.

Utah law allows governments to implement development moratoriums for up to six months for certain reasons. Many East Side communities, including Henefer, Oakley and Coalville, and Midway in Wasatch County, have done so in recent years.

Snyderville Basin Planning Commission Chair Thomas Cooke recommended a moratorium for larger projects in the Snyderville Basin for similar reasons in March, though that did not happen.

County Councilor Chris Robinson had questions about what such a moratorium would mean for someone who wanted to build a barn in their yard, for example, or for applications that have already been submitted.

“The advantage to a moratorium would be that the staff could divert its efforts, instead of processing a lot of applications, it could make a full-court press to try to update the general plan,” he said.

Young clarified to KPCW that the moratorium would likely impact only new applications.

“(There’s) really not enough capacity to cover the day-to-day and an initiative of this scale, especially if we want it done well,” she said.

As for what the county would be doing while it wasn’t processing new applications, planning commissioners and county councilors supported a public outreach effort to assess how the community would like to move forward and grow. That has not been done in a decade, Armstrong said.

Fisher said money for such an effort was included in the 2022 budget. Commissioners and councilors said it was imperative the county’s governing documents reflect the current desires of the community.

A subcommittee of Planning Commissioners John Kucera and Chris Conabee and Councilors Malena Stevens and Robinson was appointed to find and hire a consultant to conduct the community survey.

Alexander joined KPCW in 2021 after two years reporting on Summit County for The Park Record. While there, he won many awards for covering issues ranging from school curriculum to East Side legacy agriculture operations to land-use disputes. He arrived in Utah by way of Madison, Wisconsin, and western Massachusetts, with stints living in other areas across the country and world. When not attending a public meeting or trying to figure out what a PID is, Alexander enjoys skiing, reading and watching the Celtics.