Development on East Side, West Side growing concern for Summit County Council candidates

Summit County Democrats will elect the last — and last — county board member on Saturday, less than a month after Doug Clyde retired.

The East Side Democrat quit Summit County Council on Nov. 2, launching a process for the political party to appoint either Snyderville Basin Planning Commissioner Thomas Cooke or City Planning Commissioner town of Coalville, Tonja Blonquist Hanson, to fulfill the remainder of Clyde’s term.

The Democratic Party’s central committee, made up of more than 100 delegates, will meet at Ecker Hill Middle School to meet the candidates, ask questions and select a replacement. The top winner will hold the county council seat until the term expires in 2025.

Cooke and Hanson each said they are working hard to prepare for Saturday, including talking to constituency delegates, elected officials and others. They agree that it gave them the opportunity to listen and learn more about community concerns that they might not have considered.

The candidates acknowledged that they likely shared many of the same views on various issues, as both have experience on planning commissions in Summit County. Topics such as traffic, affordable housing, regional collaboration and development are key topics for Cooke and Hanson.

But Cooke, a Park City resident for nearly 30 years, and Hanson, who was born and raised in Coalville, expect to be somewhat different in their approach — or where it’s centered.

Snyderville Basin Planning Commissioner Thomas Cooke is seeking the vacant seat on Summit County Council.
Courtesy of Thomas Cooke

Cooke served for nearly six years on the Snyderville Basin Planning Commission and has lived in Silver Summit since 2001. While working on projects such as the proposed development at the Tech Center site in Kimball Junction, known as of Dakota Pacific, Cooke said he realized the growth impacts will hit the West Side sooner than the rest of the county.

“I think the next two years for the greater Park City area and what’s happening at Kimball Junction is going to be deep in the future of what the county looks like,” Cooke said. “For me to have that experience over the past five years on the Planning Commission here would be an asset to the community.”

Meanwhile, Hanson, a fifth-generation Summit County resident, has a different perspective. She worries about how the East Side will be represented without someone from that side of the county on the panel. Clyde was the only member of the current county council to live in Eastern Summit County and his departure inspired Hanson to run for the vacant seat.

“Development is happening fast and furiously throughout the county and I’m not sure residents are aware of what’s going on,” she said. “They’re focusing on their area, which is important to do…but the amount of development that’s happening on the East Side is really scary. The numbers I hear, the expectation for the future is that in the next 15 to 20 years the population on the east side of the county will be larger than the Snyderville Basin.

Hanson continued, “What are the impacts of that? If you stop and think about this, you think traffic is bad between Kamas and Park City. Well, wait until all those people move to Kamas. Not to mention what is happening in Wasatch County around the Jordanelle and what that impact will be. This will be the biggest impact on our quality of life, this is the development that is coming.

That’s why Hanson wants to give a voice to the citizens of the East Side. She said it’s important that people feel like they have someone they personally know or can call and someone who understands their lifestyle and perspectives.

Coalville Planning Commissioner Tonja Blonquist Hanson will ask the Summit County Democratic Party to choose her to replace Doug Clyde, who left his seat on Summit County Council earlier this month.
Courtesy of Tonja Blonquist Hanson

“I think it’s really important that all citizens feel like they have fair representation,” Hanson said. “It’s not about east versus west in any way, because we as a county are all in this together.”

Cooke expressed empathy for the East Side over the number of “Park City people” on the county council, but said there was more to consider about a candidate than their address. He said the county council should, at some point, consider designating certain seats based on population or region rather than continuing to keep the general five.

If elected, Cooke plans to connect with the East Side and listen to their concerns. His No. 1 priority, he said, is to engage with the county’s community engagement plan to determine the community’s core values, which will guide future decision-making. He also wants to change the county’s general plan because it hasn’t received major updates since 2015.

“I have a personal belief that if we have a general plan that even allows projects like Dakota Pacific to be put on the table, which so many members of the public vehemently oppose, then there is something wrong with our plan. We shouldn’t spend 18 months looking at a project that no one wants – and that’s a planning issue,” Cooke said.

He also noted a sense of disconnect between the county council and the planning commission. Cooke said the panel was asked to fix the planning code in 2019 and a subcommittee spent the summer reworking it, held a public hearing, provided a recommendation and sent it to the county council. Nothing ever happened with the project, until last week when the Planning Commission held a working session to review the code and the group received the document, according to Cooke.

“There’s a bit of this circular firing squad where we’re being asked to do things,” he said, adding that the coronavirus pandemic and the Dakota Pacific project had contributed to the delays. “We have to be able to do more than one or two things at a time. I give a lot of credit to our current council because there is always something planned…but I also think that when you start doing something, you have to see it through to the finish line.

Hanson said she has been attending county council meetings since Clyde announced her intention to step down, which has given her insight into how members interact. She appreciates the thoughtful contribution of Clyde and outgoing County Councilor Glenn Wright, who did not stand for re-election. Democrat Canice Harte, former Snyderville Basin Planning Commissioner, is poised to win the election for Wright’s seat.

If chosen to replace Clyde, Hanson looks forward to bringing new ideas and a fresh perspective to the board, she said. She strives to continue Clyde’s work on water quantity and quality. She also wants to address affordable housing for the elderly population and plans to address voter concerns.

The Democratic Party central committee meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Saturday. Voting will begin online shortly thereafter and will remain open until midnight. Katy Ownes, the party chair, expects the winner to be announced the next day. The County Council must then confirm the replacement.

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