Mayors in southwest Salt Lake County launch a new growth study. The county is paying close attention.

(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 in Herriman, UT on Saturday, June 22, 2019. The event celebrated the proposed Bastian Agricultural Center as part of the proposed development of the land.

Riverton • After feeling a little neglected a year ago by elected leaders for Salt Lake County, cities in the southwest corner of the valley are starting to get their attention.

Several members of the County Council have toured plots of lands being eyed for the huge and controversial Olympia Hills development near Herriman in recent days, guided by residents who opposed an earlier version of the project.

Another council member carpooled with the mayors of Herriman, South Jordan and Riverton during Thursday’s rush hour, getting their views on rapid regional growth while experiencing firsthand the region’s woes with east-west commuter traffic.

Those contacts are being made as county planners review a second version of Olympia Hills after earlier plans were vetoed last summer. A spokeswoman for Herriman, meanwhile, said Monday the city is now considering talks with Olympia Hills developer Doug Young on annexing the site into Herriman city limits, which could take the project out of county hands.

Later in the day, County Mayor Jenny Wilson joined area mayors to launch a first-of-its-kind regional “visioning” study of existing and future development across Herriman, Riverton, Bluffdale, South Jordan, West Jordan, Copperton and adjoining acres of unincorporated county land.

The $250,000 effort has been commissioned by the southwest mayors — with major financial backing from the county and Wasatch Front Regional Council, a planning agency — in hopes of better coordinating rapid population and housing growth across the six municipalities and their environs, officials said.

“They seem to be paying attention,” Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs said of county leaders, at an event held in Riverton to kick off the yearlong study.

Staggs and other area mayors have said the effort showed “an unprecedented level of collaboration” between the southwest cities after years of disparate visions and competition over development.

Wilson also praised their cooperation with county officials, which contrasts with a year ago, when they were at odds over review and approval of Olympia Hills.

“Residents have concerns about what future growth may bring to roadways, water systems, sewer and schools,” she said. “All our answers will not be found within the results of this study, but rather, [in the] collaboration that comes from city, county and state officials working together to put our resources where they are needed.”

Wilson has also joined the study’s steering committee, as a coequal player with the mayors, according to Staggs.

With plans for extensive input from the public and key stakeholders — including Rio Tinto-Kennecott, a major landowner in the area — the visioning study will look at current and future land use, transportation needs and economics, according to a spokesman for regional planning firm Logan Simpson, which will head the work.

Though nonbinding on zoning and planning decisions for the participating cities, the study could well prove vital to setting regional policy on growth for decades go come, several officials said.

“We’ve got to try to get ahead of it,” said Staggs.

South Jordan Mayor Dawn Raisor Ramsey said the results could also bolster standing requests from the cities to Utah lawmakers that key highway projects — including expansion and interchange improvements of Bangerter Highway and Mountain View Corridor — be given higher funding priority.

Salt Lake County is well into its own in-depth review of nearly 32,182 acres across an area stretching west of Bangerter Highway to the Oquirrh Mountain foothills, including many of the county’s last major reserves of undeveloped land.

The latest southwest valley effort also gets underway just as county officials are drilling down on a second version of the proposed 931-acre Olympia Hills development west of Herriman and its plans for nearly 6,330 new homes built around job and retail centers.

An earlier, more dense version of Olympia Hills, approved by the County Council last summer, was later vetoed by then-Mayor Ben McAdams in the face of community concern and claims that area residents and elected leaders weren’t adequately informed.

Olympia Hills developers Doug Young and Cory Shupe have since lowered the project’s densities from more than nine dwellings per acre to just under seven, while also deepening their studies of estimates on new car trips the project could generate and other impacts.

The developers are seeking to have the land rezoned from its current agricultural usage to allow for a planned community. Wilson has said Olympia Hills will be approved in some form, given the developer’s existing rights under current zoning.

Five County Council members — Aimee Winder Newton, Michael Jensen, Jim Bradley, Shireen Ghorbani and Arlyn Bradshaw — have so far toured the open farmlands where Olympia Hills would be built, guided by members of a grassroots group called Utah for Responsible Growth, which helped organize opposition last summer.

Herriman resident and group organizer Justin Swain said they’ve taken participating leaders on a quick drive through Herriman, then to the nearby master-planned community of Daybreak in South Jordan and finally out to the Olympia Hills site.

Swain said the tours have sought to dispel key misconceptions, including “what Herriman looks like. It's not farm and horse properties, at least not anymore.”

The tours are also aimed to debunk comparisons between Daybreak, started in 2004, and Olympia Hills, which Swain said will be significantly more dense.

Winder Newton, meanwhile, did a rush-hour “ride-along” Thursday with the three area mayors and livestreamed their 48-minute commute from Interstate 15 to 6000 West on social media.

The four found themselves stuck repeatedly in halted traffic as Staggs drove them along stretches of the Mountain View Corridor, 12600 South and 13400 South. They even broke into song together at several points to pass the time.

“People don’t want to spend their whole life in their car,” Ramsey, the South Jordan mayor, said at one point, describing the impact of worsening congestion and rising housing density for her residents.

“It affects every aspect of our lives,” echoed Herriman Mayor Pro Tem Jared Henderson.

Winder Newton, who is reportedly exploring a run for Utah governor, said later the stop-and-start trip gave her insights into a long-term lack of transportation planning for the fast-growing region.

“I’m livid we didn’t plan better 50 years ago for an east-west highway to serve this area,” Winder Newton said. “That’s my biggest frustration.”

The latest plans for Olympia Hills, she noted, have yet to come before the County Council, whose members have vowed extensive public input.

With that review pending, Tami Moody, spokeswoman for Herriman, confirmed Monday that city staff is recommending the City Council approve and initiate negotiations with Olympia Hills developers on the option of annexing the project site into city limits.

Those discussions have come up before, she said, but city officials have now concluded annexation could give Herriman more control over how the project unfolds. City officials also want a more detailed study of its potential financial impacts.

“Having this development on our border is going to cost us one way or another,” Moody said. But were the project formally within city limits, she said, Herriman could charge the developer impact fees, potentially offsetting costs for improving roads and water systems.

The land in question — owned and farmed for generations by the Bastian family of Midvale — has long been included on Herriman’s long-term planning maps for potential annexation, Moody noted. Under state law, absorbing the land into the city would require consent of its owner, a Bastian-owned company called The Last Holdout.

The council is scheduled take up the issue at its regular meeting Wednesday.