A proposal for high-density housing could bring affordable rental units to Park City. Many people living near the project site are against it.
Developers want to build 410 new homes for rent, including 144 affordable dwellings, on a 41-acre parcel off of Interstate 80 in the Highland Estates neighborhood in Park City.
The Highland Flats project proposal comes as housing prices are skyrocketing and blue-collar workers and those in a host of service and hospitality jobs are increasingly unable to afford to live in the resort town.
But residents in the Highland area say the new project threatens to reduce the quality of life in their residential neighborhood.
Adam Breen of Breen Homes, one of the developers behind the project, said his group hopes to change public perceptions of the project. Park City needs affordable housing, Breen said.
The 144 affordable homes will cater to people making 30% to 80% of median incomes for the region. Rent for the lowest earners occupying 15 of the units would be $598 a month for a one bedroom apartment, $683 for a two bedroom apartment and $769 for a three bedroom apartment.
“So the person that is working at McDonalds or serving at Starbucks or valet parking your car can actually afford to live in this community,” Breen said. Another 42 units will target people making 40% of area incomes and 36 will go to people making 50% of that wage.
Breen’s project falls within Summit County and will get a hearing before the county Planning Commission on Feb. 23, following a work session in October. Adjacent residents have submitted dozens of public comments, seeking a halt to the high-density project.
“When we bought our home and settled here, we purchased a house in a residential neighborhood and we expected it to stay that way,” wrote Kristen Gould Case, who lives nearby. “The impact of traffic, noise, water use, construction mess for years and pressure on school capacity would simply be untenable. Every inch of space in the county does not need to be developed.”
Erica Trittschuh, another affected resident, said she doesn’t think land wedged between I-80 and I-40 is a suitable spot for housing due to the potential for air and noise pollution. She said she thinks the project will also add to traffic congestion and will put an enrollment burden on Trailside Elementary School.
An online petition opposing the development has received nearly 1,000 signatures.
In response to those complaints, Breen said the project was adjusted to include more open space and add trail connections between the Highland and Rail Trails, among other improvements. The project’s exterior walls facing the freeway will be designed to dampen sound, Breen said, and the current plans include more affordable homes than in October.
But the high-density nature of the project hasn’t changed, in part because it makes the development financially feasible, according to Breen. He said he could include even more affordable housing if the county lets him add more units to the project.
And while he said he welcomes constructive criticism about the project, “it doesn’t help when we get negative feedback that just says ‘No, I don’t want that in my backyard.’ "
Scott Loomis, executive director of Mountainlands Community Housing Trust, a nonprofit which operates several affordable housing complexes in Summit County, said after several conversations with Breen, he thinks county officials are unlikely to approve the density Breen is seeking for the project.
Neighbors are also worried about the project’s effects on wildlife in the area, particularly herds of elk often seen grazing on the piece of land slotted for the development.
Breen said his team reached out to the Division of Wildlife Resources and was told that the area is not a good habitat for elk because it is so close to the freeway. Current plans include wildlife fencing to keep animals off the road.
Scott Root, conservation outreach manager at the DWR, confirmed that bull elk have been seen resting on the site. He confirmed the developers were in contact with the DWR regarding the elk, but he added that the project is located on private property and does not fall within the agency’s jurisdiction.
The affordability crisis in Park City
The city of Park City is trying to create its own affordable rental housing amid concerns about workers leaving town over housing costs.
“No workforce lives in town, not any managers or below because there just aren’t rentals and people are being forced to leave town right now,” said Councilwoman Becca Gerber at a Dec. 15 meeting. “They just move further and further and then you lose them.”
The median listing price per square foot for Park City housing was under $675 in July 2016 but close to $850 in September 2020, according to city numbers. Housing demand increased even more during the pandemic. Home sales rose 62% in July and August compared to the previous year, driving prices even higher.
Gerber said at a meeting Thursday that every business owner she has heard from is having trouble keeping workers. She said people don’t want to work in Park City because they don’t want to commute when they could get jobs in cities with housing such as Salt Lake City.
“There is nothing to rent for anyone right now at all on the market,” she said.
The city has been considering creating affordable housing as part of its Arts and Culture District project in the Bonanza Park area.
However, City Council is running into issues over the project’s costs. The city’s original numbers estimated that the housing-related parts of the project would cost $30 million, or $600,000 a unit.
As a result, the council has switched focus to an adjacent property, the Homestake Lot. On Thursday, the council said it wants to put out a request for proposals to partner with a non-profit or private developer for constructing affordable homes at Homestake.
Partnering with a private developer for an affordable complex might have its own drawbacks.
Councilman Tim Henney said on Thursday that he is concerned that if a private developer gets control over an affordable housing project, the city will lose its assets and tenants might lose their rights. He said he has heard “horror stories” about tenants being mistreated in existing affordable complexes owned by the private sector throughout the county.
“We continually hear about all sorts of issues and problems and I would call it exploitation of the tenants at the hands of the private sector landlords,” he said.
Mayor Andy Beerman told The Salt Lake Tribune that part of the reason for the high costs in the Arts and Culture District is that the city is partnering with Sundance and the Kimball Arts Center for the space. Those organizations plan to have world class architects design their art venues. Housing that would compliment those spaces is more expensive than normal housing, according to Beerman.
The council still wants housing to be a part of that project and is kicking around ideas like including commercial space or some market-rate homes to try and make it feasible.
“It’s not dead, but it’s in debate,” said Beerman. “The cost came back much higher than we expected.”