SUMMIT COUNTY, Utah — The Park City Council and Summit County Council held a joint session on Tuesday morning, with affordable housing being the main topic of discussion.
Since 1970, Park City has entitled 638 affordable housing units. In that same timeframe, Summit County has entitled affordable 1,095 units.
Referencing the Parley’s Canyon Fire last August, Summit County Sheriff Justin Martinez said that the department would have been more effective if more officers could live in the Wasatch Back.
“If we had first responders living in this community, the response would have been a lot quicker,” Sheriff Martinez said. Thousands of residents in the Pinebrook, Summit Park, and Timberline neighborhoods were evacuated due to the blaze. He said currently there is one deputy that lives as far as Spanish Fork, and that roughly 70% of staff live outside the county.
“They love it here. They love Summit County, they just can’t afford it,” the sheriff said.
29% of Park City Police Department employees reside in the county, per a staff report. Park City Fire District Chief Bob Zanetti said one firefighter commutes from Manti, more than two hours away from Park City. 38% of Park City Fire District employees live in the county. Three officers with the district live within Park City limits, all residing in affordable housing.
“While I think that we need to be making sure that we create housing for our essential workers, I think we need to be making sure we’re creating housing for everyone,” Park City Councilwoman Becca Gerber said as the conversation geared toward who affordable housing should be prioritized for. “I think sometimes these priorities unintentionally discriminate against some of the people in our community.”
Park City Councilman Jeremy Rubell countered, emphasizing the importance of prioritizing public service workers.
“What are you going to do if there’s a wildfire in Park City? What are you gonna do if there’s an active shooter and your public safety people are 45 minutes away?” Rubell said. “We’re talking about serving community needs.”
“We have a serious problem amongst our lower level service workers,” Summit County Councilman Glenn Wright said. “We need to be talking about expanding housing in general in the county and I know I will take arrows from lots of the community on that — and I don’t really give a shit. But we need more affordable housing. We need more moderate-income housing. We need more housing.”
“Prioritization is critical,” Summit County Councilman Roger Armstrong said. “We are government entities. We’re not responsible for making sure everybody has a house… if we’re facilitating housing for all of these workers, without the participation of trade organizations, like the lodging industry, like the restaurant industry, and the resorts in particular, we’re incentivizing low wages because we took care of the problem.”
“We have told the biggest employers in this county, you solve your own damn affordable housing projects,” Summit County Councilman Doug Clyde said. “Don’t come to us and expect us to subsidize your low pay so that you can run a cheap business here.”
There was a consensus that affordable housing is a “critical” priority, and that a regional housing authority is a proper tool for the next step forward. “It implies a sort of collective management of the housing stock,” Park City Councilman Ryan Dickey said of what the authority would look like. “Together should we be developing housing? That’s probably an open question that we’d answer together in that next step.”
Summit County Development Director Pat Putt said that the meeting made clear that the two bodies were “in this together.”
“I think we should have a discussion… that ultimately gets to a point where together we can start putting our fingers on some maps and pointing at possible locations. Before we do that, I think we need to have a fairly good discussion on what the characteristics of those areas look like.
“I think we have similar sorts of thoughts on that, because for us it’s always been employments — places that are employment centers, they have infrastructure, there’s connections to mobility, and there’s connections to services and recreation,” Putt said. “I think we should do that together. And then pretty quickly start identifying some locations that might be a possibility, knowing that when we start putting fingers on maps that may draw some attention and reaction, but we should be bold and courageous.”