Ever since the 2002 Winter Olympic Games shone a global spotlight on the state’s stunning Wasatch Range, visitors have made their way to Summit and Wasatch Counties looking for a place to play, and often a place to live.
The counties have experienced a steady 4–7 percent growth rate in the housing market since the recession. And after Vail Resorts purchased Park City Mountain Resort and Canyons, interest in the area has only escalated.
Buying the town
Rick Shand served as the president of the Park City Board of Realtors in 2016. He says Canyons Village (just four miles from Park City’s Main Street) has demonstrated the most growth as Vail Resorts partnered with proven developers to bring housing opportunities back into play.
Canyons Village is exactly what people expect when it comes to world-class amenities and experiences. Newly available ski-in/ski-out homes allow residents access to the ski resort from their backyard, plus construction of condominiums and townhomes are in high demand as well as luxury homes on 8-acre lots.
These developments can’t be built fast enough to accommodate the need for housing.
“Vail is driving a lot of the marketing in Park City and surrounding areas, creating a strong campaign to encourage people to come to Summit County. More people are coming into Park City and Utah than we’ve ever seen before,” Shand says.
It didn’t hurt that Vail added the Park City area to its super-popular Epic Pass, which allows skiers to purchase access to more than a dozen ski resorts around the world for less than $1,000. Last year, more than 600,000 passes were sold, bringing an influx of tourists to the Summit County area.
Shand says it usually takes someone at least three times visiting as a tourist before they buy property, but he’s seen people purchase a home in Summit County after their first stay. He’s sure things will slow down at some point, but it won’t be anytime soon.
“When people buy a vacation home, they have to buy the town first. People are buying Park City. There’s been a concentrated effort to promote summer activities and festivals.”
That effort includes Park City’s investment in the redevelopment of Main Street that has spurred a lively interest in visitors and residents alike, plus the ongoing summer and winter festivals are a bigger draw every year. Residents enjoy the community atmosphere and opportunities available for music, art and theater.
The area is beginning to attract younger families purchasing homes, but it’s also drawing grandparents making a generational purchase, perhaps buying a second home for family gatherings and vacations.
Wasatch County Manager Michael Davis sees the same type of interest in housing in Heber City and the Jordanelle Reservoir area, with his department issuing more than 400 residential building permits so far this year.
He attributes record growth in the housing market to several factors, including Jordanelle’s proximity to Park City (which has prompted development along Highway 40), the state’s financial stability and the number of retirees purchasing homes in the county to be near loved ones in Utah.
“I would say 50 percent of homes built in Wasatch County are second homes for people around the country. A lot of retirees that I never thought I’d see,” Davis says. “It’s creating interesting demographics in the area and a different perspective in regards to products and services offered in Heber and the surrounding areas.
“Builders tell me they’re selling homes as fast as they can build them. Unless there’s a downturn in the economy or a worldwide financial crisis, I don’t see that changing.”
One factor affecting the positive residential growth rate in both Wasatch and Summit Counties is the availability of affordable housing. An average sales price on a home in the Park City limits ranges between $1.2 and $1.4 million, and the average price of a home in Snyderville is $900,000. Prices in that range make it hard for those in the service and tourism industry to find affordable housing near their places of employment.
Summit County Manager Tom Fisher says this issue is a top priority for future planning in the area. “The east side of the county is still more affordable than the west, but prices are creeping up.”
To address this situation, the Park City Council set a goal to create 800 affordable housing units, and the Summit County Council approved Silver Creek Village in the Snyderville Basin, which boasts 1,300 residential units, with 330 of those units required to be affordable.
Canyons Resort housing developments also include units that will accommodate more than 1,000 people in the workforce. That project should be coming online in the 2021-2022 timeframe.
Additionally, the Summit County Council has been studying a 30-acre parcel near the Jeremy Ranch interchange and working with a master developer to create a mixed-use or transit-oriented development that would allow for workforce housing.
In Wasatch County, while single-family development is still the biggest slice of the housing pie, workforce employees are challenged to find an affordable place to live. Approximately 70 percent of the land in Wasatch County is public land, so private land developments are limited as the county tries to preserve agricultural and open space.
“Affordable housing has been a concern for many years; we are looking to expand that and ramp it up,” Davis says. “From a regional standpoint, we see a lot more activity in this area that needs to be addressed.”
Planning for the future
With new construction coming in at a premium, municipal boundaries have become more fluid in the last decade, expanding out of Park City proper to encompass surrounding communities.
Many residents find it more convenient to live further away from Park City, perhaps near the Kimball Junction area, to be closer to grocery shopping, restaurants and other amenities. While some people prefer the urban aspect of the west side of Summit County, others enjoy the smaller town feel on the east side. Both sides continue to demonstrate record growth as more people discover the beauty of the mountains and resort living.
While growth brings benefits like increased diversity, strong community leaders moving to the area, and a range of unique restaurants and shops, growth in these counties also brings several headaches to county leaders.
The area still competes with the Wasatch Front and faces challenges when it comes to building and staffing schools, hiring employees for hospitality and accommodating the crowds of people awed by the state’s mountains and recreation areas.
Multi-million dollar homes sit on some of the most lavish and desirable land in the state, and more housing projects are expected in the years to come—bringing more residents, more visitors and more people who want to call the Wasatch Mountains home.
With hundreds of homes built each year in these counties, leaders are working to find a balance between encouraging growth while considering the impact of more people living in these beautiful areas.
“This is an attractive place to live. The air is clean and there are a lot of recreation opportunities,” Fisher says. “We are taking into account problems like water quality and quantity, increased traffic and density. We need to be thoughtful as a county and as a state where those balances lie as we move forward.”