Takeaways from the Tech Center public input session
As the dust settles from a record-setting public input session on Wednesday about a proposed new neighborhood at Kimball Junction, here are some details about what we’ve learned.
The number of people who showed up to a hearing about a controversial development Wednesday evening — nearly 900 — may have broken attendance records. But if an online petition opposing the project was any guide, that could have been expected: As of Friday, more than 4,000 people had signed their names
Dakota Pacific Real Estate wants to build 1,100 homes at Kimball Junction, along with offices and a hotel. Opponents decry the traffic the project would create and the congestion of adding 3,000 residents to the area. Proponents say the project could fast-track needed and costly traffic fixes for S.R. 224.
A 2008 agreement that governs the land restricts what can be built there to mostly tech-related businesses. Dakota Pacific is asking the County Council to relax those restrictions, which it has wide latitude to do.
The opposition petition’s organizer, Ulrik Binzer, said on Wednesday everyone who signed it supplied an address in the Snyderville Basin, marking them as likely voters for County Council seats.
“So right now, through my math, at least 50% of your voters are definitely against this,” Binzer said. “… If I was a politician I would do a very simple analysis: ‘Okay, if I vote for this everyone's going to hate me. If I vote against it, everyone's going to think I'm a hero and get reelected. I'll be a hero forever when I retire in Park City.’ So why are we making this so difficult?”
Council Chair Glenn Wright and Vice-Chair Chris Robinson are both up for reelection in 2022.
Wright has repeatedly said this will be his last term as a councilor. Robinson, who is the longest-serving councilor and was first elected in 2008, said he hadn’t decided whether to seek another term.
Wright has been a proponent of the project, while Robinson’s opinion is less clear.
Earlier this year, Robinson and Wright joined fellow Councilors Doug Clyde and Malena Stevens in voting to direct county staffers to prepare a detailed development agreement. That was seen as reflecting councilors’ support for the project.
Only Councilor Roger Armstrong dissented, and his opposition has remained steadfast.
The conventional wisdom has been that four councilors support the proposal and only Armstrong does not. But that was before the recent groundswell of opposition.
On Friday, Wright told KPCW he is generally supportive of the project, but said it was still a work in process.
Robinson initially recused himself from the deliberations because he had received Utah Jazz tickets from a vice-president of Dakota Pacific Real Estate who has been closely involved in this project.
Robinson has taken a lead role in recent negotiations since he “un-recused” himself at the behest of his colleagues, serving on a subcommittee with Clyde. Both councilors have significant development experience — Clyde in planning and developing ski areas and Robinson as a vast property owner, rancher and housing developer himself.
It was Robinson who in recent meetings explained the intricacies of the financial aspect of the plan. The Dakota Pacific proposal involves complicated finance mechanisms including a public infrastructure district, which is a voluntary agreement to levy money from property owners. It could raise up to $14 million to be earmarked for transit solutions.
Robinson has outlined both the project’s pros and cons in public meetings.
Clyde has generally been a proponent. He has said a chief argument of the opposition, that the Tech Center won’t be built, isn’t true. Anything with an entitlement in this area, he said earlier this year, would likely be built.
On Wednesday, he described his thinking in more detail.
“You know, when I was driving in this afternoon, they were probably waiting through three lights to get out. Right?” Clyde said. “… That's where we are currently. There are thousands and thousands and thousands of units left to be developed inside of the boundary of the Kimball Junction area. How are we going to get that traffic through Kimball Junction?”
The key, he said, is an HTRZ, or a Housing and Transit Reinvestment Zone. There are two key benefits if the state agrees to establish an HTRZ around the Dakota Pacific project site.
For one, the county is empowered to collect 80% of the tax increment created inside the area. That could help pay for costly transit fixes.
The other is that an HTRZ requires the Utah Department of Transportation to “give priority consideration to projects that are within the boundaries.”
That’s how county councilors say solutions like burying S.R. 224 — which could cost hundreds of millions of dollars — would be accomplished.
“I believe that the importance of the (HTRZ) zone is the — it's the linchpin on this entire thing,” Clyde said. “If we can't find that that is a commitment that they can make and that they can live with and that we can take to the bank, as it were, then then there's no reason to do this.”
This didn’t sit well with the anti-development crowd still around to hear Clyde’s comments around 10:45 p.m.
“You can’t go to the bank on a promise,” one audience member said.
Malena Stevens, meanwhile, is the only County Councilor who previously voted on the proposal. She was one of two Snyderville Basin Planning Commissioners to vote for the project when, by a 5-2 margin, the commission forwarded a negative recommendation to the County Council last fall.
At the time, she favored loosening the tech-related restrictions on the land. She said she was comparing the proposal not to open space, as it currently is, but to the Tech Center it was approved to become.
Wright said he wasn’t sure there would be a vote by the end of the year. The council has two more meetings in December and must approve its operating budget, which is proposed to be the largest ever.