Utah State University celebrates Bastian family donation of 100 acres at the heart of controversial Olympia Hills project

(Michael Mangum | Special to The Tribune) A tree planting ceremony sits in front of a vast wheat field at the site of the proposed Olympia Hills development project near Herriman, on Saturday, June 22, 2019. The event celebrated the proposed Bastian Agricultural Center as part of the proposed development of the land.

Herriman • A major part of the controversial and still-unapproved Olympia Hills project was put in motion Saturday, with a tree planting and promised donation of prime farmland for a new teaching facility for Utah State University.

The Bastian Agricultural Center and its 100-acre tree-lined campus is envisioned as one of the centerpieces of the 931-acre high-density residential and commercial development proposed on the western edge of Herriman.

And while Salt Lake County’s ultimate zoning approval for Olympia Hills is still an open question, a host of officials gathered early Saturday to celebrate the charitable donation of those 100 acres to USU by members of the Bastian family.

On wheat fields where Elmer and Margaret Bastian and their descendants toiled for nearly 75 years, USU’s Extension Services hopes to build a working farm and teaching center to keep the land in agriculture and to honor the Bastian family’s legacy as one of the first — and last — clans to run major farm operations near Herriman.

“It’s a fantastic site,” Ken White, dean of USU’s College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences and head of its extension service, said as he looked out over green acres of wheat rolling over the Oquirrh foothills.

(Michael Mangum | Special to the Tribune) Ken White, Dean of the USU College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences, speaks during a tree planting ceremony at the site of the proposed Olympia Hills development project in Herriman, UT on Saturday, June 22, 2019.

White and others expressed their deep gratitude to the Bastians, who through a family company called Last Holdout LLC own a rare 921-acre swath of the undeveloped open land that would be used to build Olympia Hills development.

Officials then turned spades of dirt at the foot of five newly planted trees, one each for Bastian family members Elmer and Margaret and their children Mary, Emily and David. They followed that with a celebratory breakfast banquet at Bastian Elementary School in Herriman, with nearly 50 USU, Jordan School District and government officials and their families in attendance.

(Michael Mangum | Special to the Tribune) Jordan School District Board of Education members Tracy Miller, left, Darrel Robinson, center, and Marilyn Richards shovel dirt during a tree planting ceremony at the site of the proposed Olympia Hills development project in Herriman, UT on Saturday, June 22, 2019.

The 100-acre gift to USU is thought to be worth at least $30 million, according to Olympic Hills developer Doug Young.

Young and White both said they expected construction of the USU center would proceed even if Olympia Hills was not approved. “But Olympia Hills is going ahead,” Young added confidently.

(Michael Mangum | Special to the Tribune) A model of a STEM education center within the proposed Bastian Agricultural Center is displayed at an event at Bastian Elementary School in Herriman, UT on Saturday, June 22, 2019. The event celebrated the center in conjunction with the proposed Olympia Hills development project.

Saturday’s commitment to donate the 100 acres has been in the works for nearly four years, Young and others said — driven primarily by David Bastian, who died at his home in Midvale Apr. 9, 2017, age 71.

“He had an intense love of his land and he wanted to protect it any way he could,” said Jake Anderson, attorney for the Bastian family. David Bastian’s sister Emily Markum told the audience he “would be so pleased.”

White said USU would continue ongoing fundraising to build the Bastian Agricultural Center, with the final price tag as yet unknown. He and Utah Commissioner of Agriculture and Food Kerry Gibson said the new facility would serve to educate generations of area residents on the continued importance of farming through hands-on experience.

Young said the farming center — with varied community programs, training facilities for farming and STEM, an all-purpose barn, two arenas, amphitheater and expansive grounds devoted to live farming operations — is also seen as an integral part of Olympia Hills.

The USU facility’s banana-shaped campus at the heart of the development, he said, would be surrounded by high-density housing and job centers as part of its vision as a sustainable high-tech company town, built around offices of major tech firms.

When initially approved by the County Council last year on a 7-1 vote, Olympia Hills was billed as a planned community akin to South Jordan’s Daybreak but with nearly triple the residential density, for more than nine housing units per acre.

That potential to bring tens of thousands of new residents to an already rapidly growing area drew intense opposition last summer from many nearby homeowners and local elected leaders, who warned the project would significantly worsen traffic in the southwest valley and overburden existing school and water systems.

(Michael Mangum | Special to the Tribune) A canal divides a wheat field from existing development at the site of the proposed Bastian Agricultural Center in conjunction with the Olympia Hills development project in Herriman, UT on Saturday, June 22, 2019.

That version of Olympia Hills was ultimately vetoed by then-County Mayor Ben McAdams.

But as demand for affordable housing on the Wasatch Front continues unabated, the County Council voted in late May to allow Olympia Hills developers Young and Cory Shupe to reapply with county planners to build a revised version of project — with a lengthy list of changes.

The land in question is currently zoned for agricultural use. Developers need county approval for it to be rezoned to allow for a planned community.

Developers unveiled a new version of the project in March, which lowered the proposed housing density to just below seven units per acre, but the council has since demanded more.

In their formal resolution on the Olympia Hills reapplication, passed May 21, council members are asking for guarantees that at least of a fifth of the project be open space and that it include an assortment of housing types to be clustered near work centers to reduce commuting.

The county also is seeking land set-asides for transit lines, trails and other amenities such as schools and churches.

More crucially, county officials are asking the developers to fully address new transportation needs created by the project along east-west arterials in the area with better street connectivity and to ensure that utilities such as water and sewer will be adequate. Young said the county is also offering millions of dollars for road improvements.

County Council Chairman Richard Snelgrove was the lone member opposed to the resolution, urging his colleagues to delay their vote by two weeks to allow for more input from the public and officials in surrounding cities.

Herriman, Riverton, Bluffdale, South Jordan, West Jordan and Copperton have a joint land-use study of the broader area underway, as does Salt Lake County.

Ryan Perry, a senior adviser to County Mayor Jenny Wilson, McAdams’ successor, said on Friday county planners and elected officials have been in talks with the developers on key features of the project since the resolution passed, while also consulting with mayors of nearby cities.

Perry said county officials expect a second application for Olympia Hills within a matter of weeks.

Young said he was revising the project to meet the new county requirements and expected to reapply for zoning approval within 30 days.

“The county is helping us solve a lot of these problems,” he said, adding that in spite of public criticism of the project over density and traffic, “the Olympia Hills vision is starting to catch on.”

“It’s not ‘if’ this project will happen,” the developer said Saturday. “Olympia Hills will happen.”