Planners: Cluster growth to reduce problems
Future growth • Design for living would boost transit, cut commuting, and pollution.
Published: September 27, 2012 05:41PM
Updated: September 30, 2012 04:52PM

With 65 percent growth expected along the Wasatch Front in the next 30 years, planners hope to reduce growing pains by encouraging new population centers that cluster homes, work, play and shopping close together around mass transit stations.

That would reduce the need to travel far, and cut traffic congestion and pollution. Since different centers would be connected by mass transit, the strategy would also reduce the need for new roads regionally.

“If we grow in this way, we’ll reduce the time that people have to spend behind the wheel. We’ll reduce costs as well as impacts on land, air and water,” Andrew Gruber, executive director of the Wasatch Front Regional Council, told officials gathered Thursday at the Salt Palace for updates on long-term planning by Wasatch Choice for 2040.

It is a consortium of local governments that is using a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to help communities work together to implement a regional vision for the future that was developed by them through Envision Utah over the past decade.

Encouraging a hive of new population centers around high-speed mass transit is now seen as a key to handling an expected additional 1.4 million residents over the next 30 years.

Planners hope to put a third of that growth on just 3 percent of the area’s land in such centers, Greg Hughes, a state legislator who is chairman of the Utah Transit Authority and is also a developer of apartments, told the group.

He said that is important because the Wasatch Front is running out of places to expand housing and highways. That is solved if at least some new growth goes “up” — with housing on floors above offices or stores — instead of just spreading “out “in traditional single-family home subdivisions.

Hughes said younger generations are more likely to embrace resulting lifestyles in such centers, where they could stay connected to computers and electronics on mass transit instead of sitting hours with both hands on the wheel of a car to commute.

Robert Grow, president of Envision Utah, encouraged revising zoning laws to allow higher density and combined business-residential buildings in “village centers” that would cluster around larger “town centers,” which in turn would cluster around even larger “urban centers,” all connected by transit.

He said these centers are key to increasing transit ridership — and reducing congestion. Areas that simply increase density without coupling it to transit or ensuring that businesses, homes and recreation are accessible see no benefit in decreasing traffic congestion.

Grow said encouraging such centers around existing mass transit also “is absolutely free. It doesn’t cost us a dime in taxes,” and could greatly help decrease travel delays ­— while other options such as building new highways are expensive.

Benefits of such centers are plentiful, Grow said.

“They lower the cost of living. They make things convenient and bring them closer to us. They create community identity because they are gathering places,” he said.

“They create opportunities for walking and biking. They make transit thrive. And they result in less air pollution and a healthier population.”

Grow said the new Daybreak development in South Jordan is an example of such centers.