Olympia Hills is back.
Developers behind a controversial, high-density community proposed for the southwest tip of Salt Lake County say they’ve redesigned the project and are ready to once again seek public input before asking the county to sign off.
It would still be called Olympia Hills and would still be located on unincorporated county land west of Herriman, but instead of nine dwellings per acre — a density that drew intense public criticism and a veto from the county mayor last summer — the plan is to drop that to just below seven. With a total project area of 938 acres, when built out, Olympia Hills would hold roughly 6,500 households.
Developers Doug Young and Cory Shupe say they’ve also got more detailed answers to prior worries about traffic congestion, water supplies and impacts on public schools.
Open houses on the new Olympia Hills plan are scheduled for Wednesday at Herriman’s Bastian Elementary School and Thursday at Golden Fields Elementary in South Jordan, both starting at 6 p.m.
Opponents of the first proposal say they’re eager to see how it has changed.
Yet as they bring their revamped plans forward, Young and Shupe say they hope Utahns in the Salt Lake Valley and beyond take time to understand their broader vision, which goes well beyond one planned community.
“We are not a subdivision,” Young, a Salt Lake City-based developer, told The Salt Lake Tribune. “This is something that no one’s ever seen before.”
Amid Utah’s continuing population rise, they say they want to create a sustainable high-tech company town, built in patient phases that cluster residential and commercial development around new employment centers, brought in by major tech firms akin to Adobe, Google or Facebook.
“We want to focus on creating and seeing jobs come to the area rather than just housing,” Young said. “We are not marketing Olympia to builders. We are marketing Olympia to the tech companies of the world.”
A ‘company town’ for all
Playing off the history of Lark, an abandoned mining town near the Olympia Hills site, Young and Shupe say they want to provide tech employers on Silicon Slopes a single location to build corporate centers next to homes for their employees, letting residents live, work, shop and recreate — without having to rely on a car.
Likening their project to Daybreak, the successful master-planned community in South Jordan, the developers contend Olympia Hills 2.0 is firmly rooted in smart growth and the idea of closely coordinating land use and housing with transportation and job centers.
“No one will have to drive here,” Young said. "It’ll be electric scooters, things like that. I like to say, cars are optional.”
And if their vision is a success, they say they’ve received signals from officials with Utah County and with Kennecott Land, a vast landowner along the Salt Lake Valley’s west bench, that the Olympia Hills template could be applied to other swaths of undeveloped acreage.
“You could literally replicate this from Olympia Hills all the way north to Magna,” Young said.
Second time around
The first plans for Olympia Hills hit a wall of public opposition when they broke into view last summer, largely over concerns the development would disrupt surrounding residents’ quality of life and swamp schools and already-clogged east-west roads serving the area.
For many Wasatch Front residents, the debate also brought some of Utah’s wider struggles with growth, density, housing and transportation into sharper focus.
Mayors of nearby Herriman, Riverton, Copperton and West Jordan fought approval for the project last June, claiming they had not been adequately included in its review. They issued a joint statement urging that county zoning be denied over concerns about how closely packed the homes were and how much traffic they might bring.
And after the Salt Lake County Council approved the zoning, opposing residents signed petitions and amassed at a town hall in Herriman by the hundreds, eventually leading then-County Mayor Ben McAdams to step in and issue a veto. The developers then withdrew their application.
A spokeswoman for County Mayor Jenny Wilson, who replaced McAdams in January, said Friday the resubmitted plans will now come back for review by the County Council.
In a statement, Wilson said Salt Lake County had “encouraged the developer to incorporate public feedback into the planning process. We applaud their efforts to do that and encourage residents to engage and share their thoughts on this proposed new community.”
County Councilman Steve DeBry, a South Jordan resident and lone vote against the zoning last June, called the developers’ quest for feedback “refreshing” and echoed a desire that the new Olympia Hills plans “get a lot of public input and engagement on this to see where everybody stands.”
DeBry said he also wanted the plans vetted by the county’s Planning Commission and elected officials in cities adjacent to the proposed development.
“What I don’t want is to have the same pig, just with lipstick on it,” he said.
A new look
The developers hired Love Communications, a Salt Lake City advertising firm, shortly after the veto.
Nearly eight months later, the Olympia Hills relaunch comes with its own logo, website, slick graphics, a three-minute promotional video and a carefully crafted image as “an inclusive, thoughtfully developed 21st-century community.”
Beneath the glitz, Young and Shupe have also used the intervening months to address questions about Olympia Hills’ impact on surrounding communities.
They say they expect property values for existing residents in adjacent Herriman and Riverton to rise, as businesses move in and bring new job opportunities with them.
Neighborhoods in Olympia Hills will reportedly offer a blend of single and multi-family dwellings, in a range of styles and prices, all within walking distance from park spaces and recreation. The community’s trail system, the developers say, will reach far up into nearby Butterfield and Yellow Fork canyons in the Oquirrh Mountains.
The strategy of putting new homes next to work centers, the developers say, will mitigate traffic concerns for already-overloaded east-west arterials such as 12600 South and 13400 South. Added traffic, they claim, will be handled by upgraded versions of U-111 and 126000 South, and Salt Lake County has already committed $4 million to improving to those two roads within the next two years.
Young and Shupe say public transit service — relatively scant in that southwest part of the county now — will be a major part of Olympia Hills in the future, although they say those details are still forthcoming.
Jordan School District, they say, has bought land for new schools, Utah State University plans to open a satellite campus and so does a Kauri Sue Hamilton school, serving students with special needs.
The owners of the land have created a trust to donate 100 acres of the site to USU and 20 acres to Jordan School District for the benefit of future residents, Young said.
Water demand will be met by Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District, which they say had already planned to service the area. Storm drainage and sewer capacity have also been addressed, the developers say.
And while construction of Olympia Hills would likely start within two years of zoning approval, Young said its phases would be spread out over four decades.
“We have patient money,” he said. “Nobody is in a hurry.”
A spokesman for Utahns for Responsible Growth, a grass-roots group opposed to Olympia Hills, said Friday he hopes the new plans will face close scrutiny and that crucial claims about potential impacts would be independently verified.
“They say that because they’re going to do this or that, it’s going to keep traffic down and it’s going to be this self-contained community,” said group organizer and Herriman resident Justin Swain. “That’s nice, but how can you prove that?”
Mayors of six cities in southwestern Salt Lake County are halfway toward a goal of raising $250,000 for a planning and land use study of their area, with a view to possibly coordinating some of their development strategies and road improvements. Swain, DeBry and others said they hoped that study could be finished before county officials give Olympia Hills a go-ahead.
But it doesn’t appear that the Olympia Hills developers have lined up solid support yet from the once-critical mayors before their relaunch.
Herriman Mayor David Watts did not respond to a request for comment.
Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs said that the developers’ claims about traffic produced by Olympia Hills, in particular, need to be carefully analyzed. He and other area mayors recently published an opinion piece in The Tribune decrying a transportation crisis in the county’s southwest corner, with key roads already at failure rates.
Staggs questioned the claim Olympia Hills would have only a modest effect on congestion.
“That assumes everybody who lives there will work there as well, which you know is incredibly naive,” Staggs said. “There’s going to be quite a few people from northern Utah County, Riverton, Bluffdale and all the surrounding communities that are going to have to find their way there.”
He and officials with nearby cities and Salt Lake County say they’d heard rumblings the revamped Olympia Hills was coming back and a few details, but some expressed a new round of frustration at not being consulted as those plans were being overhauled.
“How have we been included? It’s been absolutely zero,” Staggs said. “We’ve not been brought in really at all to talk about how a new application might look, which is surprising."