Peg Ross is home at last. This spring, soon after moving into her new home on Park Avenue, Ross’s grandkids walked down the street from their house to dye Easter eggs in her kitchen. “How lucky am I,” the 67-year-old longtime Parkite exclaims. “This is my forever house.”
Ross was among the first residents to move into The Retreat at the Park, a cluster of eight single-family homes, each painted a cheery Victorian-era hue, representing one of Park City’s newest affordable-housing offerings. And though luck did play a role in Ross landing her new home—more than 100 applied to get a crack at buying in The Retreat, and then a lottery was held to choose the final 8 of the 55 who qualified—Park City leaders are hoping that by giving her and other working-class residents a chance at home ownership, the town will reap an even bigger reward: reviving Park City’s dwindling small-town persona.
Similar to other mountain resort towns across the West, three-quarters of Park City’s housing stock is owned by second homeowners, leaving the remaining inventory to be chased by full-time residents. The Park City Board of Realtors reports the average median sale price for a single-family home in 2017 was $1.9 million. At that price, the only qualified buyers are wealthy retirees, established longtime residents, and vacation-home purchasers. As a result, many working-class residents—teachers, firefighters, shop clerks, etc.—are finding themselves looking to the Salt Lake City or Wasatch County housing markets to pursue the dream of home ownership. That almost happened to Ross who, until now, had lived in rental housing since 1993, unable to buy at Park City prices. And it’s a scenario all too familiar to her new neighbors at The Retreat, Kara and Casey Cook.
After years of moving from rental unit to rental unit and paying ever-escalating rents, the Cooks gave up on owning their own home in the town Kara grew up in and bought a house in Salt Lake. Both kept their Park City jobs, Kara as a teacher at Parley’s Park, the elementary school she once attended, and Casey as a bartender on Main Street. “We were double commuting—two cars, two schedules,” Casey says. It was a situation made more complicated when their two-year-old daughter, Hazel, was born. But that changed when they threw their hats in the ring to buy a home in The Retreat. “It’s awesome now to raise my daughter here in the town where I grew up—I always wanted her to grow up here, too,” Kara says.
And The Retreat is just the beginning. In 2016, the Park City Council pledged to build 800 affordable housing units by 2026. It’s hoped that this aggressive target will help alleviate tangible side effects of squeezing people like Ross and the Cooks out of town, like commuter traffic snarls and staffing issues. Park City Mayor Andy Beerman is also hoping that providing a little equity in this way will help restore a big reason why Park City is so desirable in the first place: its intimate, small-town vibe. “We’re losing the very fabric of this community,” Beerman noted at the opening ceremony for The Retreat. “This is about community building—keeping town vibrant and diverse.”
That intent is obvious in the physical design of The Retreat. The eight homes sit in a tight row facing one another, a lit sidewalk running down the middle, on the 1400 block of Park Avenue with City Park on the east. “Our concept was inward-looking to a common social space—a pedestrian corridor in which front doors face inward,” architect Jesus Benezu says. “You provide opportunities for socializing. Low porches face inward giving an opportunity for interaction among neighbors.”
The two units facing Park Avenue are century-old restored miners’ houses, while the six behind are new construction. The city purchased the land—which included the two existing miners’ houses and the vacant ground behind them—during the Recession, when prices plummeted, and put it in the bank for a future use. After debating several ideas for the property, the city settled on the eight-house subdivision. Mayor Beerman notes that, in addition to providing affordable housing, The Retreat checks the box on several city priorities: historic restoration, energy-efficient building practices, and, with its primo location on the bus route and within walking distance of both the Main Street and Park Avenue commercial areas, fewer cars on the road.
“If someone didn’t tell me this was affordable housing, I wouldn’t realize it,” says The Retreat’s builder, Ross Barrell of North Point Construction. The homes are attractive yet simple, and very similar to much pricier homes located nearby. (Homes in The Retreat were priced at $192,153 for a one-bedroom to $280,291 for a three-bedroom.) Inside finishes are modest, with laminate floors and standard-dimension cabinetry. The largest floor plan has three bedrooms. The biggest challenge was restoring the old homes economically. Both were lifted, moved farther back from Park Avenue, and placed on new foundations. For years, transients gradually destroyed the interiors, so Barrell’s crews gutted both and rebuilt everything, recycling historic elements like bricks and wood siding along the way.
Ross, the Cooks, and six other homeowners are now settled in at The Retreat. Residents at another city-backed affordable-housing complex in the Prospector neighborhood—four single-family homes and four townhomes dubbed the Central Park Condos (a.k.a. the Lobster Lofts for its location behind Freshies Lobster Co)—should be moved in by the time this magazine prints. Eight more units are underway where the Park Avenue fire station once stood (now called Woodside Park), with a scheduled move-in date of late spring/early summer 2019. Though these units represent just a fraction of the city’s goal to build 100 new affordable housing units per year over the next eight years, with the completion of each space, moms like Kara can walk their children to the library for story hour, hospitality staff like Casey can walk to their jobs, working grandmothers like Ross can keep their grandkids close, and Park City can again feel like a real hometown.
Buyers at both The Retreat and the Central Park Condos were required to have at least two years of full-time employment within the boundaries of the Park City School District, have incomes falling below established guidelines, and agree to deed restrictions that govern to whom they can sell their homes—and at what price—if they choose to leave. However, according to Park City Municipal Economic Development Manager Jason Glidden, qualification criteria is continuously evaluated to adjust to community need. For more details, visit parkcity.org, or contact the Mountainlands Community Housing Trust, housinghelp.org.