Controversial Olympia Hills housing proposal near Herriman gains the backing of Silicon Slopes

(Rachel Molenda | Tribune file photo) Protests last June were fierce against Olympia Hills project, a proposed high-density development project in the southwest part of Salt Lake County. The housing and commercial development proposed west of Herriman drew hearty support Tuesday from Utah’s technology sector.

A controversial high-density housing development proposed west of Herriman won full-throated support Tuesday from Utah’s technology sector.

Clint Betts, executive director of Silicon Slopes, representing some 6,500 tech firms, told the Salt Lake County Council that his industry placed a high priority on new housing construction as part of recruiting and retaining talented employees.

Housing “is top of mind for our community,” Betts said, and the 938-acre Olympia Hills proposal and similar projects “needed to be built yesterday.”

“We need developments like Olympia Hills and others that our employees, our employers and our community can rally behind and help Utah continue to be a great place to live, work and play,” he told the council.

The Olympia Hills project would bring nearly 6,500 new homes along with retail outlets and office towers to the unincorporated southwest corner of the county, just outside Herriman’s western boundary.

(The Salt Lake Tribune)

Although it won county approval last summer, the project was ultimately vetoed by then-County Mayor Ben McAdams in the face of intense public opposition. Area residents fear Olympia Hills could further snarl already congested east-west highways, as well as overburden public schools and squeeze the region’s water supply.

But Betts, who is also co-chairperson of a group backed by the Salt Lake Chamber focused on housing affordability, called such large planned housing developments “critical for the type of expansion and the type of growth you’re going to see in that area.”

His remarks came as part of the county’s ongoing series of talks on growth-related issues, known as Growth Summit 2.0.

Council members did not comment on Olympia Hills, but some did praise Betts’ claim that Utah’s tech sector was even willing to forgo state and county tax incentives in favor of more government spending on community needs, such as housing or teacher pay.

“You’re singing a song I like,” County Councilwoman Shireen Ghorbani said at one point.

Betts pointed to Silicon Valley in California, where home values have scaled skyward in recent decades and only high-paid tech employees can now afford to live. As Utah’s tech sector continues to draw venture capital and add to its existing 300,000 job base, he said, “we can’t allow that to happen here.”

Developers Doug Young and Corey Shupe announced in March they had redesigned Olympia Hills to address public concerns, saying they hoped to create a sustainable high-tech company town, with phases of residential and commercial development built around new job centers.

The project’s design now calls for slightly fewer than seven dwellings per acre, down from about nine per acre when McAdams vetoed it.

Young, who attended Betts’ presentation Tuesday, said he expected Olympia Hills would be resubmitted to the county for approval within 60 to 90 days.

Both the county and a consortium of six cities in the area, meanwhile, have announced new land-use planning efforts for that southwest part of the Salt Lake Valley, though it’s unclear how those studies would affect the Olympia Hills proposal.

Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs, who has pressed for more road construction in the southwest valley and improvements to Bangerter Highway and Mountain View Corridor, said Betts’ comments had to be viewed in the context of worsening commuter traffic.

“Most of the people that would live out there are not going to work out there,” Staggs said. "They’re going to commute to the south Salt Lake County-north Utah County of Silicon Slopes and that’s fine — but you need to have the transportation in place to do so.”