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Sandy charts a renaissance with walkable villages, mass transit
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Sandy is the quintessential American suburb: single-family homes, shopping malls and neighborhoods intersected by big boulevards that weren't designed with pedestrians and bicycles in mind.

But an ambitious, long-range plan seeks to retool that vision: Think villages with condos and apartments, offices and shops within walking distance, lots of green space, parks and trails. And, yes, mass transit.

Sandy officials are calling it a "suburban renaissance for the 21st century" ­— a master plan for a 30-year build-out that will yield a much more defined "suburban downtown." It seeks to create a city center that would build on existing amenities, including Rio Tinto Stadium and the Expo Center, and attract a critical mass of residents, offices and small retail within a pedestrian-friendly framework.

"Change is going to happen," said Tom Dolan, mayor of the city of about 87,000 residents. "If we don't plan, it won't be beneficial for our residents."

Following World War II, the American dream was centered around single-family homeownership and transportation based largely on the automobile. Communities were planned around cars, backyards and shopping malls.

Suburbia made for a comfortable lifestyle on one hand, but it had downsides, too: sprawl, traffic jams and air pollution. It meant driving to school, work, shopping and recreation.

Now there's a new trend, particularly among young adults, who want housing without yardwork that is close to recreation, entertainment, shopping and work.

"The new lifestyles will be different," Dolan said. "We can't continue to spread out and sprawl."

Sandy will first focus the proposed master plan on 835 acres from 9000 South to 10600 South, between the TRAX line and Interstate 15. The new concept builds upon a general land-use plan called Wasatch Choice for 2040, developed by Envision Utah and the Wasatch Front Regional Council for Weber, Davis, Salt Lake and Utah counties.

Wasatch Choice for 2040 looks to accommodate a future with 1.4 million additional residents from Provo to Ogden — an increase of 65 percent. The plan emphasizes mass transit and higher-density housing near transit hubs. It also outlines, generally, walkable village centers with bike paths.

Sandy has contracted with the IBI Group, a multinational planning organization, to apply the general vision to a specific plan for Sandy.

"There is a great opportunity there," said Peter Pillman, director of the IBI Group in Salt Lake City, "because there is a significant amount of open land."

Within the 835 acres, Sandy has identified what will be two housing centers, called East Village and North Village. Pillman said those developments will include roughly 60 percent residential, 30 percent office space and 10 percent retail up to five stories high. But the concept is also intended to be developer-friendly and incorporates a lot of latitude to accommodate a changing real estate market.

"This master plan is a framework that allows it to happen when we're ready," Pillman said of the anticipated demand for housing and commercial space as the population grows.

Making it happen • It's not a done deal, yet. The master plan is subject to public hearings and requires approval by the planning commission and City Council.

And there will be other challenges, most notably the economy, market demand and the willingness of private-sector developers to embrace the vision.

The villages and other amenities identified in the plan will be connected by walking and biking trails, roads and an internal mass transit system ­— like small buses with their own roadways. Transportation is key, but another important aspect of the concept is zoning that offers flexibility for developers, said Nick Duerksen, Sandy's economic development director.

"It's a cafeteria plan, if you will, so a developer can choose from any number of things we'd like to see in the area," he said. "Each increment will not be reliant on something else to make it successful. Each piece has to stand on its own."

The Sandy plan, and the Wasatch Choice for 2040 that helped spawn it, focus on economic realities but tie them to aesthetic values that include a sense of community, said Alan Matheson, the former executive director of Envision Utah.

Despite the new plan, Sandy will still have plenty of single-family home neighborhoods, he said.

"We're not telling people how to live. But we're giving them more choices," said Matheson, who is now Gov. Gary Herbert's senior adviser on environment.

A trend among young adults, as well as retirees, centers on quality time, he noted. A growing number of people don't want to spend time working in the yard or commuting. Among other things, the village center concept allows for communal green space, which gives residents opportunities for time outdoors and helps create a sense of community. And it could provide the potential for residents to live closer to jobs, recreation and shopping.

Matheson noted that the new vision also focuses on affordable living.

"Young families and aging populations are looking for ways to reduce transportation and housing costs," he said. "This responds to consumer preferences and provides a healthy lifestyle."

Thirty-year Sandy resident David Wiley, who lives just east of the project area, said he's seen the proposed master plan and thinks it will spark a dynamic future for the city.

"This is a paradigm change," he said. "As I look at Sandy City, we really don't have a center, a downtown. This will help us grow and show the rest of the state that we have a lot to offer. It'll be a big draw."

Developer Chris McCandless, who also sits on the Sandy City Council, said the new plan "has a lot of moving parts that need to be analyzed." But he noted that similar village concepts have succeeded elsewhere in the United States and Canada.

"I would never ask Sandy residents to be guinea pigs," he said. "But I think we have a pretty good chance that this is attainable, if the private sector buys in."

csmart@sltrib.com

A 30-year plan calls for walkable villages instead of sprawl.
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