Many residents and elected leaders in the southwest end of Salt Lake County want to see the controversial Olympia Hills housing development delayed for more study, if not stopped all together.

Salt Lake County officials say a pause is not a viable option, partly because it could mean a loss of influence and more sprawl when, they say, more smartly planned and higher-density housing is needed.

Those opposing views are likely to clash again on Tuesday.

County Council members are scheduled to hear concerns from mayors of five cities potentially affected by the development project, at a 1:30 p.m. meeting at council offices in Salt Lake City.

Then the council is scheduled to preside over a 6 p.m. public hearing in the auditorium of Herriman’s Copper Mountain Middle School, 12106 S. Anthem Park Blvd. (5600 West).

“Let’s pack the house and make them feel the pressure!” said one yard sign circulating in Herriman and Riverton in advance of the evening hearing.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)
(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

This is the second time the County Council is vetting a second application from developer Doug Young and his partner Cory Shupe, who are now seeking zoning approval to build the 933-acre, 6,330-home master-planned community on unincorporated farmland located on Herriman’s northwestern border. An earlier version of the development was vetoed in mid-2018.

The county’s Director of Regional Planning and Transportation Ryan Perry said officials hoped the Herriman hearing, in particular, would bring “valid, well-rounded concerns, so that it’s a productive meeting instead of just a lot of angry people.”

Planners say the revised plans for Olympia Hills meet county land-use requirements and they are recommending approval. This time around, they say, the county has imposed new and strict design standards on virtually every aspect of how Olympia Hills would be built — though many residents in the southwest Salt Lake Valley remain worried.

Organized opponents warn that the higher-density residential and commercial development — to be built over 25 years — threatens to bring in thousands of new residents, heavy additional traffic and other impacts they say will likely diminish the quality of life for those already living in surrounding communities.

In particular, members of a group called Utah for Responsible Growth and others are pressing for Olympia Hills to be held up at least until a separate, $250,000 regional study of growth in southwest Salt Lake County is completed.

“If this will be built out over at least 20 years and the developers say they’re patient, why would we not wait for an informative study the size of which has never been done before?” asked Herriman resident Justin Swain, one of the group’s organizers. “This is a huge study that could really provide a lot of information on how to do this right.”

The county’s west side and especially its southwest corner have seen a majority share of the region’s new housing construction in recent years. That rapid growth — paired with prior controversy over Olympia Hills — led city leaders last summer to commission a first-of-its-kind regional “visioning” study of current and future development across Herriman, Riverton, Bluffdale, South Jordan, West Jordan, Copperton and adjoining acres of unincorporated county land.

Launched in August, the effort is being guided by Wasatch Front Regional Council, with $100,000 of the total price tag paid by the county. The study is supposed to take at least a year and produce a detailed basis for better coordinating rapid population and housing growth, officials have said.

Officials including Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs have issued similar calls to wait until that’s done before Olympia Hills is reviewed, including at a county hearing on the project Jan. 14. But Perry and other advisors to County Mayor Jenny Wilson are saying the county’s hands are tied.

(The Salt Lake Tribune)
(The Salt Lake Tribune)

Any results from the Southwest Visioning Study would be nonbinding, they note — meaning that participating cities aren’t obliged to follow its findings. They have also pointed out that the project’s developers are legally entitled to a timely review of their zoning application, in light of how the county handled the prior veto by then-County Mayor Ben McAdams.

Perry, also an advisor to Wilson, said the county’s only legal means for pausing Olympia Hills would be a countywide moratorium on growth — and that could only last six months under state law.

“We already have an application in for this development, so Salt Lake County really has a responsibility to address that application,” he said. “What those citizens really are asking is for the County Council to vote no on this application.”

Since the county says it won’t consider a temporary delay, Swain said his group has indeed shifted to calling for Olympia Hills to be rejected outright — and has collected at least 2,000 petition signatures to that effect. A thumbs-down on Olympia Hills this time, he said, would prevent the developers from reapplying for at least a year and well after the southwest visioning study is complete.

“This petition is geared a lot more towards the idea of, ‘Let's make sure we develop this entire area in a responsible, sustainable way,’ ” Swain said.

But that scenario, Perry and Wilson have both said, could lead the developers to pull out of talks with the county and proceed with developing the land under its current agricultural zoning.

That, Perry said, risks surrendering entirely the county’s influence over shaping the project as a master-planned community and instead having the property built out with hundreds of homes, each on a one-acre lot — with far less county input on how that is planned.

“We have gone down a path of asking for a lot from the developers in terms of on-site and off-site traffic mitigation, park and open space requirements, sustainability rules and the like,” Perry said. “The fear is that we would lose that leverage if the developer said, ‘I’m going to piecemeal my development from this point forward.’“