Rep. Mia Love turns massive housing project into campaign issue, criticizes Mayor Ben McAdams for not doing more to stop it

A proposed 8,800-home development was thrust into the campaign for Utah’s sole battleground House district Monday, as local residents plotted a referendum to kill the project.

Republican Rep. Mia Love called on her opponent, Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, to block the proposal by vetoing the necessary zoning reforms.

McAdams, a Democrat, worked to delay the plan last week, but Love dismissed that as him “trying to look like a power broker” amid rising public opposition.

Love, the two-term lawmaker, said in a Facebook post that McAdams initially refused to listen to residents’ concerns about the proposal and instead accepted more than $10,000 in donations from its developers.

In a statement, McAdams’ campaign manager Andrew Roberts pointed to the mayor’s efforts to delay the project and said he’s been willing to veto the zoning reforms if necessary.

Love has been “absent” from issues in Utah, Roberts said, and was seeking to distract attention from what he called her efforts to roll back consumer protections in favor of Wall Street and drug companies.

It’s unclear whether one of the developer donors Love identified, John Gust, is involved with the new project. His name is not listed on organizing paperwork and he did not respond to a message left at his office Monday.

The matchup between Love and McAdams is considered the only competitive congressional race in deep-red Utah this year. National Democrats have targeted it as a possible pickup in their quest to gain control of the House.

The proposed Olympia Hills development stretches over 938 acres (380 hectares) in an unincorporated area roughly 30 miles (48 kilometers) southwest of Salt Lake City. It’s unclear how much the development would cost.

Mayors of neighboring suburbs have opposed the project, arguing it would lead to an influx of traffic and overwhelm resources in the quiet suburban area.

McAdams met with a county municipal board Friday and persuaded them to delay a vote on the development scheduled for this week. He said he wanted to discuss alternatives that would satisfy more local residents.

If the negotiations fail, locals are organizing behind a plan to kill the development at the ballot.

Herriman resident Justin Swain, 37, filed an application for a referendum Monday that would bring the decision on the land’s zoning to voters. The measure needs signatures from nearly 85,000 people countywide to qualify and would not be on the ballot until 2019 or 2020.

Swain, a software company employee, told The Associated Press that the referendum was a backup plan in case McAdams and local officials aren’t able to reach an acceptable alternative.

He said the project was sprung on neighboring residents with little notice and would lead to a densely populated community that would strain resources.