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On 2023 Utah Legislature, local officials agree: land use authority under threat

Kirk Siegler

The 2023 general session of the Utah Legislature ended just before midnight Friday. After a whirlwind 45 days, Summit County and Park City officials are dealing with fallout from some bills.

First, something that came as good news to Park City officials: A substitute to Senate Bill 271, which would allow billionaire Matthew Prince to expand his Park City home beyond what local codes currently allow, failed

Three of Summit County’s representatives, Rep. Mike Kohler, Rep. Kera Birkeland and Rep. Brian King voted against the substitute. Rep. Scott Chew voted in favor. Chew didn’t respond to a request for comment in time for this report.

But the underlying S.B. 271—which deals in part with so-called fractional home ownership—passed. All four representatives in the House voted against it, even though it had passed unanimously in the Senate.

Kohler said even though he opposed it, the argument from the bill’s supporters that it protects property rights is tough to fight.

After the vote, Park City Mayor Nann Worel echoed a common refrain: S.B. 271 threatens local land use authority.

Worel said the city had been happy with an ordinance it passed earlier this year restricting fractional ownership to zones where timeshares were already permitted. But S.B. 271 prevents the city from treating fractionally owned homes differently from single-family homes and primary residences.

“We came up with a map of parts of town that we felt—and the neighborhoods—that would be an appropriate place to have those fractional ownerships,” Worel said. “What the legislature has effectively done is remove our land use authority.”

Summit County officials speak in the same terms as Worel when addressing yet another bill in the 2023 session that impacts local land use. They released a statement earlier this year saying, “Senate Bill 84 seizes land use authority from Summit County.”

The issue with S.B 84 is that it seems to give Dakota Pacific Real Estate the right to develop despite current zoning in Kimball Junction without county approval.

Council Chair Roger Armstrong brings up bills like S.B. 84, H.B. 271—and another which specifically excludes Summit County from receiving funding for roads that officials argue they’re entitled to—when diagnosing the county’s and the state’s adversarial relationship.

“I'm very, very deeply concerned,” he said. “I mean, this was one of the most unusual legislative sessions that I've seen in the nearly 18 years I've lived here and the 10-plus years that I’ve been on the county council.”

The council has speculated that some of the bad blood goes back to the Hideout controversy, when a state bill allowed that town to annex county land. Summit County has won lawsuits against Hideout so far, and the case has made it all the way to Utah’s Supreme Court, which hears oral arguments Monday.

Kohler said he thinks some lawmakers utilize the impression that Park City is difficult to deal with.

“For some reason—and it's lobbyist-driven, it's people-driven in some cases—Park City and Summit County have a little bit of an image problem at the legislature as being uncooperative,” Kohler said. “That's not my not my impression of it [the county] at all. I think it's been kind of set up to do that, because they want to take advantage of that attitude to get things that they otherwise wouldn't be able to.”

Armstrong says he invites Salt Lake City lawmakers to come spend time in Summit County to understand its unique issues and why county officials object to state solutions. It’s part of a push from the county to shift the narrative in the valley.

Some statewide media have already toured Summit County with Armstrong, albeit without positive results.

“Positive results are measured in what the legislature did. Nobody jumped up and said, ‘We were wrong. Let's repeal this terrible bill,’” Armstrong said. “I don't understand it.”

Armstrong had visited the statehouse to help Rep. Birkeland present her bill which would counter S.B. 84, but it died in committee. She said she hopes to reintroduce it in special sessions this year.

Were Gov. Cox to veto S.B. 84, Birkeland thinks a special session would be a fine venue to pass the measures in it that are beneficial, just without the language pertaining to Dakota Pacific’s holdings in Kimball Junction.

“There's nothing in it that we can't address in a special session or next legislative session,” she said. “It's not it's not necessarily as impactful, the underlying bill—as terribly impactful, in the worst way, that the substitutes that were added become.”

Mayor Worel sees Summit County’s problems with the state legislature as similar to Park City’s.

“I think that we're seeing an alarming trend, in their willingness to step in on land use issues,” Worel said. “You know, from our city's perspective, local authority over land use is critical. We know best what's going on here in our community.”

All eyes now are on Gov. Cox.

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