Upset Holladay residents want to stop the development of the old Cottonwood Mall site, says plan calls for too many apartments

(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) Canada Geese roam the acres of the old Cottonwood Mall site near 4800 S. Highland Drive in Holladay on Tuesday March 13, 2018.

A group of Holladay residents is trying to put the brakes on a major development on the site of the old Cottonwood Mall — a plan these residents say will concentrate too many people in not enough space without boosting the city’s economy.

“It would be great if Holladay residents have a voice in the matter,” said Brett Stohlton, one of the organizers of Unite for Holladay, which is collecting signatures for a referendum that could stop a development plan approved last month by Holladay’s mayor and five-member City Council.

“It’s a bigger issue than just six people,” Stohlton said.

(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) Big Cottonwood Creek runs along the south and west sides of of the old Cottonwood Mall site near 4800 S. Highland Drive in Holladay on Tuesday March 13, 2018.

The plan, approved May 17, could transform the 57 acres where the mall once stood into a busy city center. The mixed-use plan, developed by Ivory Homes and the Woodbury Corp., would boasts a high-rise apartment complex with an estimated 775 units — which Stohlton said would make it the largest apartment block in Salt Lake County.

The plan also includes 79 single-family homes, 50 to 70 luxury condominiums, 22 brownstones and 39 manor houses, as well as office space, and between 20 and 40 retail stores and restaurants.

“It feels like the city is being sold a lot of high density that’s not in character with the history and vision of Holladay,” said Stohlton, who works for a private equity firm, “and we’re getting a poor economic outcome out of it.”

Holladay Mayor Rob Dahle argued that city leaders approved a plan that “struck a fair balance with all the parties involved and would speak to a successful future for that site.”

The plan approved in May, Dahle said, was a compromise after a larger plan — which included 236 more residential units, and a 136-foot-high tower — was rejected by the city Planning Commission last year.

“We’ve spent hundreds of hours, numerous town hall meetings, five or six public hearings, on this,” Dahle said. “This has been out in the public for seven months.”

Dahle also said the plan is in keeping with what used to be on the site before it became a flat piece of dirt in 2007.

“There was a mall on that site for 55 years that was blacktop and buildings and no trees, that generated over double the traffic that this site is projected to generate,” Dahle said. “This site was never designed to be this quaint little rural development.”

Stohlton also said the city is giving the Ivory/Woodbury consortium too much of the tax revenues the new development would generate, under a process called tax-increment financing. Dahle countered that the city will still get some $3 million in tax revenue over the next two decades, even after the developers get their share, which is more than the zero dollars the site is generating now.

The requirements to get a referendum on the ballot are steep. Stohlton’s group must collect 5,874 signatures — 35 percent of the people who voted in the past presidential election — before July 12. Stohlton estimated the group is about a third of the way toward that goal.

Such protests are becoming a trend along the Wasatch Front. Orem residents mounted a petition drive this spring in an effort to block a student-housing project near Utah Valley University. And reaction from Herriman residents recently prodded Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams to veto the Olympia Hills development project.