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A team of graduate students from Harvard and Utah State universities recently presented their observations and recommendations about population increases in the Snyderville Basin, an area they say may grow by more than 400 percent in the next 25 years and suffer adverse environmental effects.

The students visited Summit County late last summer and worked throughout the fall compiling their findings regarding transportation, trails, sensitive lands, infrastructure amenities and wildlife. They used that information to look to the year 2020 to see what the area would look like under four different scenarios of build-out."Summit County is a diamond in the rough on the brink of discovery," one student told a large gathering of residents at a presentation at the Yarrow last Wednesday. "The county will face increasing development pressures," the student said, and he encouraged residents to "be proactive rather than reactive" to those pressures.

The students frowned on the county's current "performance system" used by developers to have their projects approved and instead set forth three alternatives for development that would be efficient in saving open space, meeting infrastructure needs and in minimizing environmental damage.

"This is a visually unforgiving landscape," one student said. "The environment is Summit County's most important asset. The landscape lies directly in the path of rapid expansion, and it will inevitably be altered through change. What will be left?" the student asked. "If the character and quality of life are to be maintained, an alternate future must beput forward."

The students presented a state-of-the-art video presentation of buildouts alternatives for the future. Under the current development pattern, open spaces will be built on, ultimately blocking the view of mountain and meadow landscapes.

"A large part of the are in Summit County will be available for development in 40-acre lots, which is destructive and expensive," a student said in describing the current development scenario. Since land is expensive in those large parcels, many locals won't be able to afford the land, and it will be sold to outsiders. "Existing site conditions have inconspicuous housing with a clear view of the mountains. The potential view would be dominated by housing everywhere the current codes allow it."

Three other development alternatives were presented, one called the "cluster alternative," another a "village alternative," and the third a "new town" alternative where a town would be built in the upper Silver Creek valley near the Commerce Center on U.S. 40. Under each of those three alternatives, housing would be less conspicuous and open space would be preserved. A clear view of the mountains would also be preserved.

Provisions of those types of developments would prohibit the use of billboards, and a regionwide trail system would be developed, with a focus being the Winter Sports Park at Bear Hollow now under construction.

"More planning is needed to minimize infrastructure costs, to minimize environmental impacts, and to preserve a sense of open space," a student said. "We can only recommend alternatives which will balance development demands. All of our alternatives seem to be more desirable than the current trend."

The crowd was able to see animated views of the future, in what Harvard professor Carl Steinitz said had never been done before.

The videos were made by using three-dimensional images to animate land-use changes. "These are computer-generated cartoons," Steinitz said. "This simply hasn't been done anywhere. In our view, it's an experiment. This is our best view from a distance."

Steinitz prefaced the presentation by saying, "It's your place, not ours, and we understand that very well."

The students' report said three very different population types will desire to live here: commuters who work in Salt Lake City, second homeowners who recreate here, and permanent residents "wanting an alternative to the urban rat race."

That influx of people will put pressures on the environment, and the students concluded the issue of water should be of utmost concern. "Water patterns deserve recognition more than anything else," a student said. "Given the known shortage of water, it's foolish not to ensure its protection."

The students recommended that setbacks be required from surface channels and water bodies, and that monitoring be conducted to ensure quality.

"You have the advantage of realizing the role of planning in development," the students told the audience. "It's the most important challenge faced by all of you."

(Additional information)

More discussion

The Summit County Commission and Planning Commission will meet Jan. 8 at 7 p.m. in the Landmark Inn at Kimball Junction to discuss development in the Snyderville Basin.