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Park City affordable housing project moves forward, despite safety concerns

The Rocky Mountain Power substation next to the Homestake lot.
Parker Malatesta
The Rocky Mountain Power substation next to the Homestake lot.

Citing “adverse public health impacts,” the chair of the Park City Planning Commission is opposed to the proposed Homestake affordable housing development. Despite her objection, the project is now headed to the city council for final approval.

KPCW received a copy of a letter Park City Planning Commission Chair Laura Suesser sent Mayor Nann Worel through a public records request. The letter was sent in January.

In it, Suesser says: "Park City should make the public policy decision to avoid any unnecessary EMF [electric and magnetic field] exposure by not locating a city-funded affordable housing residential building directly next to the Rocky Mountain Power station.”

Suesser added that she is sensitive to the serious need for affordable housing, but suggested a parking garage would be a better use for the site, which is a triangle-shaped parking lot off Homestake Road behind the Kimball Arts Center and Boneyard Saloon.

Suesser repeated her opposition during the planning commission meeting Wednesday evening.

“I decided that I just can’t be impartial on the Homestake project, because I have a conscientious objection to the project because of the potential adverse health impacts on residents living in such close proximity to the transmission facility, and especially one that may possibly be upgraded at some point in the future," she said. "So that is why I recused myself.”

Suesser voted in favor of the project in October, before concerns about the substation increasing power emerged.

Since then, Rocky Mountain Power has said there are no plans in place to upgrade the voltage at the substation, which lies directly adjacent to the Homestake property.

Commissioner John Kenworthy pushed back on those assertions, saying future growth will require more energy capacity, whether that’s for new resort developments or more electric vehicle charging stations.

Commissioner Bill Johnson said he was uncomfortable ratifying the development agreement Wednesday. He noted EMF exposure in the area has historically been an issue, pointing to resident opposition years ago when the substation was proposed to move to Iron Horse Dr.

Johnson said the Bonanza Park neighborhood where it currently sits has been designed to limit EMF exposure.

“You have a recycling center, you have a maintenance and storage facility for the resort, you have a parking lot, which is going away, and then you have the one development there that’s strategically planned — storage units as a buffer for that substation," Johnson said. "So it’s not as if the EMF thing has come out of nowhere. I think it’s always been a concern, and that’s why that area has been designed in that manner.”

Senior city attorney Mark Harrington told the planning commission it’s too late to discuss the substation issue, since they already approved the project in October. He emphasized the city council could still halt the Homestake development.

“These other issues are of great public concern, and you’ve appropriately raised them to a higher level for the city council’s consideration as they decide whether to move forward with the project or not, or address the issues that you’ve raised in their ground lease or not," Harrington said. "And address in terms of additional terms with the potential future residents.”

Several commissioners said they didn’t receive ample research about exposure at the substation until after they voted on the project.

Commissioner John Frontero requested that the city council research the EMF topic further, and find ways to make the housing safer.

Commissioner Henry Sigg, who was appointed to the planning commission after Homestake was approved, said he felt the process was rushed.

“To me, there’s a lot of cases here where the cart is leading the horse," Sigg said. "And there’s a lot of questions that I have — how did we get to this point? When we could have had these studies in the beginning and sited our buildings in such a way that we wouldn’t even be having these discussions.”

Kenworthy also expressed that the process was rushed, and attributed it to Park City’s housing crisis, which is due in part to nearly half of homes being short-term rentals.

“Desperate is not in the land management code," Kenworthy said. "But desperate was pushing this. Desperate was turning up the heat on the pot. Whether you admit it or not, it was.” 

Despite the objections, and largely due to its inability to change the project under their jurisdiction, the planning commission approved the development agreement in a unanimous vote.

The next step is for city council to take up the final approval for the project, which is scheduled for May. During that time, further debate about EMFs could occur.

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