Planning commission is a hard no on Highland Flats rezone; project heads to Summit County Council

PARK CITY, Utah. — The Snyderville Basin Planning Commission voted unanimously last night not to recommend the residential zoning change required for the Highland Flats high-density housing project to proceed. The decision followed an hour-long discussion regarding efforts developers had made to craft a palatable proposal, including planned trail improvements, increased open space, and promises to mitigate traffic and pedestrian concerns.

The commission’s negative recommendation will be sent to the Summit County Council, where the developers will next make their case. County council will evaluate the proposal and could potentially approve it in some form irrespective of the planning commission’s recommendation.

The commission did not discuss whether a scaled-down version of the project might warrant another look.

“The Highland Flats application at this stage is a legislative act, and the planning commission is only a recommending body,” said Ryan Dickey, chairman of the planning commission. “The county council is the final authority. An applicant might feel that the council will be more receptive to an application than the planning commission, and decide not to make changes requested by the planning commission if the applicant sees a path to approval by the council. The commission and council don’t always agree.”

After a multi-hour public comment session Feb. 23, which overwhelmingly conveyed opposition to the project from abutters and neighborhood residents, the planning commission did not open last night’s meeting up for addition input from the public.

But public opinion was very clearly a factor in last night’s decision. Commissioners frequently referred to messages they’d received in recent months through hundreds of communications from opponents of the 410-unit rental home development proposed for a 41-acre parcel, owned by the developers, at the southwest corner of the Interstate 80 and S.R. 40 junction.

“We’ve got an issue with how that development fits in with that neighborhood,” said Bruce Carmichael, who spoke first after the developers concluded their presentation. He went on to say the project would negatively affect the area’s feel and livability, and expressed concern about spillover traffic impacts to Old Ranch Road, Kimball Junction, Trailside, and S.R. 40.

Carmichael acknowledged that the project contained benefits to the community in the form of increasing the amount of affordable housing available to county residents, a subject widely regarded as a crisis with dire economic impacts to the region, but said he thought the negative impacts “will do harm” that outweighs the benefit.

Other commissioners made clear that they didn’t believe the requirements to justify a zoning change had been met.

“We have the right developer, but I could not think of a worse place to put the development,” said commissioner Chris Conabee, who later expressed hope that the developers would find another site for their project. “What you’re trying to bring us is exactly what we need. It’s just…in the wrong place.”

Commissioner Thomas Cooke said the area was simply not eligible for rezoning because it had not met specific requirements to justify doing so, and pointed out that the county had not yet exhausted its options regarding locations more appropriate for a high-density project.

The development group responded today with optimism regarding working with county council and an emphasis on the value of affordable housing to the community.

“We are pleased the planning commission will continue its evaluation of our important proposal,” said Lance Bullen of Colmena Group, a partner in the development. “Our vision has always been to provide a safe, high-quality, and most importantly an economically attainable housing product to workforce residents within the boundaries of the Summit County. If not at this location, which provides preferable I-40 access, public transit assets, contiguous developable property with favorable topography, then where? It would be a travesty if the voices of a few drown out the need articulated by so many.”

Adam Breen said the project’s affordable housing component was a benefit too valuable to pass up.

“Fears about an increase in crime, overcrowding schools, and a threat to property values are completely unfounded,” Breen said in a statement. “Local leaders claim housing for workers is a priority, yet they have done little to facilitate it. We are offering a viable solution with rentals that create a pathway for home ownership and greater socioeconomic diversity for a more sustainable community. Our team is looking forward to working with Summit County Council to bring our vision to the community.”

In response to traffic concerns, the developers said today that they will engage approved engineers to do a full traffic study in the future as they ‘work through semantics’ with the county council.

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