Olympia Hills is back for public debate, with plans to make it Utah’s new Daybreak — only with more jobs nearby

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ongoing development takes shape around Oquirrh Lake at Daybreak on Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020. Daybreak, the 4,100-acre master planned community in South Jordan, illustrates the idea of blending higher density housing and walkable community design with ample amounts of open space. That "smart growth" land use approach is being required by Salt Lake County for a proposed development called Olympia Hills, a 933-acre residential and commercial project proposed west of Herriman.

Herriman • A resident uprising ended the first bid to create a massive new community out of farmland just west of Herriman.

Now, the Olympia Hills project is back again.

This time, Salt Lake County leaders are imposing an unusually strict set of guidelines on virtually every aspect of how the development would look and feel, including requiring some affordable homes — and developers say they are willing to go along.

Their first step will be facing many of those same residents again at public hearings that begin this week.

The new version of Olympia Hills, detailed in thousands of pages of county planning documents, in many ways resembles Utah’s most famous planned community — Daybreak in nearby South Jordan.

The county is requiring a diverse range of building types and styles, with dwellings clustered together and plenty of nearby parks, all built in phases over a 25-year period. Though smaller, it’s a plan very much in line with the 4,100-acre Daybreak community, where homes continue to sell briskly some 15 years after the project’s launch.

There are also major differences. In a nod to dire concerns about east-west commuter traffic, developers say they are promising to help pay for a series of road improvements, including a share of those falling outside of Olympia Hill’s 933-acre footprint.

And unlike Daybreak, their project will be built around major employers, say developer Doug Young and his partner Cory Shupe — with many drawn from the state’s expanding tech sector. Shupe said in an interview that hundreds of tech companies “are asking for this exact thing, saying we would jump today if there was a place available. But there’s not.”

The plans for Olympia Hills envision a mix of nearly 6,330 new apartments, condominiums and single-family homes and about 1.8 million square feet of new office and retail space, spread over what is now open farmland in the Oquirrh foothills. Nearly 100 acres in Olympia Hills would be devoted to a Utah State University agricultural center and campus.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Wary area residents, whose unrelenting opposition in 2018 led then-County Mayor Ben McAdams to veto the proposal, are readying for public hearings on the revised plan, starting Tuesday.

That 6 p.m. hearing in the Salt Lake County Council chambers will be followed by a Jan. 28 hearing at a yet-to-be-decided locale in Herriman. County officials have also put up a website, olympiahillsrezone.com, to push out information on their review.

A community, in detail

The County Council signed off on the earlier version of Olympia Hills in an 8-1 vote, and several members have continued to voice support for master-planned development during a series of growth-related presentations they’ve held since McAdams’ veto.

In a bid to address public concerns, county planners say they have created an unprecedented set of design standards, financial requirements, obligations for road upgrades, open space and affordable housing and other rules on developers as they seek approval.

“You really never see this kind of detail for a standard rezone,” said Ryan Perry, director of regional planning and transportation for the county.

Olympia Hills is also driving a wider debate on how Utah’s cities deal with the idea of density and strategies for packing larger numbers of homes onto the county’s 33,000 acres or so of remaining undeveloped land.

On paper, Olympia Hills plans call for 6.8 dwellings per acre, but under county rules, nearly 20% of the project’s land would also be dedicated to parks and open space. By that same raw metric — sometimes referred to as gross density — Daybreak, with similar green spaces, is 4.9 dwellings per acre.

The notion of density with Olympia Hills and similar land use debates is “a totally artificial construct,” according to an attorney for the developers.

“I try to convince council members to look at not the density per se as sort of a fetishistic number, but instead to look at the quality of the design standards and the product that you’re actually getting,” said Salt Lake City lawyer Bruce Baird.

Density aside, many residents in Herriman, Riverton, South Jordan, Copperton and Bluffdale remain deeply worried about the sheer scale of Olympia Hills and potential traffic on already-congested roads and other impacts in the southwest portion of the valley.

Justin Swain, an organizer with a group called Herriman for Responsible Growth, said a petition urging the county to put Olympia Hills on pause once again has already garnered nearly 2,000 signatures.

“Olympia Hills is a fantastic idea,” said Swain, a homeowner in a Herriman subdivision. “But that’s not where we live. This is still on a level unlike anything that we have around here, and there’s a lot of concern about what it looks like outside of Olympia Hills.”

Version 2.0-plus

Young and Shupe with Olympia Land, the company pushing Olympia Hills, are seeking three actions from the County Council. Those include changing the county’s general plan for that area to allow for the project; rezoning the agricultural site to make way for a master-planned community; and approving a 40-page development agreement and a set of design standards for how the project would unfold.

County officials, meanwhile, say they are defending the quality of life for existing residents through “strategic planning tools and regulatory oversight” of Olympia Hills — including specific rules for its layout, block sizes, home construction, open spaces, street network and other major features.

“Many of these design standards go above and beyond conventional piecemeal development,” said Jake Young, planning manager for the county. “They focus on quality place-making.”

Construction would happen in phases through 2042 under current plans, and developers would need separate approval for each new community built within Olympia Hills. If they win this initial zoning change, the first such plan will probably take a year to prepare, said Shupe, and then another year for review and approval.

Under that scenario, the project’s first batch of nearly 1,440 single-family homes, condos and apartments and roughly 789,000 square feet of commercial space would be built over the next seven years. The following phase, to be completed by 2032, would bring an additional 1,900 dwellings and another 868,000 square feet of offices and retail outlets.

Maps indicate those two phases, involving some of the densest stages of the entire project, would be located on eastern portions of the Olympia Hills footprint — right on Herriman’s border.

Some 1,790 more homes would then go up by 2037, according to the plan, and another 1,200 units or so by 2042. Each of the four phases would build roughly twice to three times as many condos and apartments as single-family homes. The commercial buildings, to be done by 2037, would skew heavily toward offices.

Under the agreement, once the county has approved the first 1,500 permits for new dwellings, the developers must either file papers to incorporate the area as its own township — or seek annexation into a nearby city, most likely Herriman or South Jordan.

That trigger clause, according to Shupe, will give the county an option to continue to provide services to the community itself or hand that responsibility to an existing or newly created city government.

Sense of place

The county’s design standards also spell out five place types within the proposed community: town centers, village centers, commercial centers, neighborhoods and institutional campuses.

The town center — part of phase one and seen as the Olympia Hills downtown area — would have some of the project’s highest residential densities, exceeding 20 dwellings per acre along with commercial buildings.

Village centers, at the heart of the project’s many neighborhoods, would range from nine to 20 housing units per acre.

Neighborhoods would be limited to between four and eight homes per acre, in a Daybreak-like system that reduces the footprint allocated to each home in exchange for shared open spaces, parks and trails.

“They give up the yard size, but the backyard becomes the community,” said Mark Doud, a consultant to the project and chief economist for Metrostudy. “Everybody has a huge yard space because everybody has access to the parks and all the other amenities.”

And again, akin to Daybreak, the county’s rules forbid “cookie-cutter” approaches to construction to ensure a mix of housing types and commercial buildings with a variety of styles, shapes and heights.

The standards require smaller blocks to make the community more walkable and an interconnected street system that accommodates pedestrians, cyclists and other modes of transport in addition to cars. Major streets are to be spaced no more than half a mile apart and a majority of streets will be designed for slow speeds.

County standards also specify the look and structure of the project’s bike lanes, alleys, neighborhood streets, connector streets, avenues and boulevards.

The county is requiring that developers dedicate five acres of parkland per 1,000 residents, with open spaces interconnected throughout the development. Design standards call for Olympia Hill to have a 50-acre regional park, four 10-acre community parks and at least one park within a quarter-mile of every home.

Olympia Hills would also have an extensive trail system, according to the standards, linking to hiking and recreation venues up Butterfield Canyon and into the Oquirrh Mountains.

Housing ‘for all’

The region’s shortage of housing amid rising demand is a crucial backdrop to the county’s review of the project, lending urgency to its approval in the minds of some elected officials, including County Mayor Jenny Wilson. And the county’s plan assumes housing affordability “is integral to the success of Olympia Hills and the region.”

A minimum of 15% of Olympia Hills homes are required to be affordable and set aside for residents making less than the area’s median income or those working blue-collar jobs, according to county documents. That must include rentals and for-sale homes alike, with affordable dwellings spread through each phase and rents and purchase prices kept low for at least 30 years.

Some 720 of the homes would be dedicated to senior housing.

For homes sold or rented without subsidies, the economic study of Olympia Hills is recommending average monthly rents of around $1,199 per month for 900-square-foot apartments and $1,508 for apartments of 1,150 square feet.

Town homes would range from about $252,000 to $320,533, while more traditional single-family dwellings would go for somewhere between $345,000 for smaller units and $728,167 for a 4,000-square-foot home on a half-acre lot.

By comparison, the median price of an existing single-family home across Salt Lake County is now above $381,000, according to the Salt Lake Board of Realtors.

Doud, the Metrostudy economist, said market demand indicated that nearly half of Olympia Hill’s homes are likely to be occupied by families with young and school-aged children and about one in 10 homes would go to affluent buyers.

Traffic ahead

Coping with additional traffic has been central to the county’s planning, officials say. The proposed contract with the developers would require them to pay transportation costs within the project — and a share of required road improvements beyond the bounds of Olympia Hills.

“What other master-plan community has ever in the history of this state agreed to do that?” Shupe asked. “Really, when you think about it, it’s unprecedented.”

According to the county’s traffic analysis, when fully built, Olympia Hills would add 69,000 daily vehicle trips to surface roads in the area, including between 4,500 and 6,000 at rush hours. That, according to a third-party consultant, will require extensive road upgrades to reduce congestion and commuter delays.

As early as 2027, the Mountain View Corridor north of 13400 South would need traffic light upgrades and additional lanes at six intersections, studies of the project indicate. And by 2032, 13400 South would need new lanes between 5000 West and 6400 West.

Subsequent phases will mean widening 7300 West north of Herriman Boulevard by 2037 and, five years later, doing the same to Herriman Boulevard from Main Street to 6000 West and adding lanes to 6400 West north to 11800 South, the studies say.

But after a detailed review of potential effects on 30 intersections and key road stretches, consultants have concluded that those and other improvements on the right timetable would effectively relieve traffic problems from Olympia Hills — with one major caveat.

While a majority of roads affected are owned by cities in the area, the timing of improvements to state arterials such as the Mountain View Corridor and Bangerter Highway — the primary collector roads for that part of the county — would be set by the Utah Department of Transportation, with funding allocated by the state Legislature.

Shupe acknowledged that officials with Salt Lake County and the developers at Olympia Land do not have any firm guarantees that millions of dollars in state cash will be made available for road upgrades when they might be needed.

And there’s similar uncertainty on the prospect of mass transit for the new community, whether in the form of TRAX or bus rapid-transit routes.

Olympia Hills’ street network is being designed with all the necessary placeholders for future bus routes and TRAX lines — rights of way, turnout lanes, etc. — and the county is requiring developers to work with the Utah Transit Authority.

Transit could reduce car trips to and from Olympia Hills by as much as 2.5%, according to traffic consultants. Even though the TRAX red line extends into Daybreak, residents and city officials complain the region is otherwise underserved by mass transit.

Neither Olympia Land nor the county has any bankable assurances that transit service will one day reach Olympia Hills. That decision will be based on ridership, UTA’s complex finances and other factors at the time, Shupe said. Meanwhile, Olympia Hills is being designed on the assumption they will come.

“That’s part of the beauty of a master-planned community,” Shupe said. “In 10 years, when we’re feeling the pressure, we can say, ‘Perfect, UTA! Your timing might be two years behind our speed, but you see the need now and we’re ready.’ ’’