Politics

Thomas Cooke, candidate for Summit County Council, identifies short-term rentals as problematic

SUMMIT COUNTY, Utah – With the primary elections less than a week away, Thomas Cooke, candidate for Summit County Council Seat C, recently spoke with the TownLift to discuss his campaign and his aspirations if he is elected to the seat in November.

Cooke is currently facing Megan McKenna in the Democratic Primary, and one candidate will eventually be eliminated either McKenna or Cooke will be designated the Democratic nominee for the Summit County Council Seat C position.

Active registered voters in Summit County received a ballot in early June. Primary Election ballots must be postmarked by June 24, 2024, the day before Election Day. If you wish to vote in person, visit a Voting Assistance Center during Early Voting or on Election Day if you did not receive your ballot in the mail or you need assistance with voting.

Cooke, who has served on the Snyderville Basin Planning Commission for the past nine years, believes that his experience in public service provides him with expertise fit for the County Council.

“I think that part of the reason that I filed to run is that the experience you get from serving on a planning commission over a long period of time helps to really understand some of the prep and the pressures on the community from growth,” Cooke said.

Cooke began his stint on the Snyderville Basin Planning Commission in 2017, two years after Summit County had adopted a general plan.

While Cooke became involved in 2017, he explained that the general plan was still fresh and much of his time was spent implementing that into Snyderville Basin.

“I started in 2017, and the current general plan had been adopted in 2015. It was still a pretty fresh vision, and I’ve spent, most of my time on the Planning Commission upholding and implementing that general plan. Now as we look, we’re actually in the process right now of writing the next general plan for the next 10 years,” said Cooke.

Cooke believes that his experiences working with County government would result in a smooth transition to the County Council.

In terms of what he hopes to accomplish if elected, Cooke stressed that he wants strong community input on the next general plan, which he will then work to implement.

“My vision (if elected to the County Council) is really implementing the general plan and making sure that we have good inputs into the next one,” Cooke said. “My priorities are the community’s priorities. My priorities are evidence based and research based, and my vision of public service is implementing what our community values are.”

Referring back to his time on the Snyderville Basin Planning Commission, Cooke explained how he made an effort to reach out to people to understand their values and concerns.

“When COVID hit we kind of took this pause. There wasn’t much development going on during COVID for obvious reasons, so the planning staff and the current Council at the time decided it would be a good time to take a look at our general plan,” Cooke explained.

“What we really learned is that we needed to do some research and some outreach to the community, and find out what the community values are.”

Explaining what they found, Cooke said the Planning Commission and the County Council discovered that Summit County residents overwhelmingly valued open space, access to recreation and amenities, and the character of the communities.

These are the values that Cooke believes are still prominent in the community, and if elected, the ones he will work to implement.

“The job ultimately for me is to represent the people and the values and to act accordingly when it comes to big decisions like development,” Cooke said.

Moving on to housing and the lack of affordable housing in Summit County, Cooke posits that it is a multifaceted problem, but part of it lies in short-term rental properties.

“The truth is, we don’t have a shortage of housing -we have a shortage of affordable housing,” Cooke said. “We have our numbers straight from Jeff Jones (Summit County’s Housing Director), 34% of our housing units are nightly rentals, and that erodes the possibility of any affordability.”

“It’s not that we don’t have enough units, it’s that we have a lot of units that are used as second homes and and or nightly rentals that have a profound effect on our housing stock, and they’re taken out of play for the possibility to be used as rentals for locals.”

Cooke has worked to counter this problem as a member of the Planning Commission, explaining that projects he was participated in have resulted in “over 450 affordable deed restricted units into play in just the basin.”

“We need to stay the course, and we do need more units, but we also have to look at some of the other things that are eroding our housing stock- and the nightly rental is a big thing contributing to that,” Cooke said.

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