Mayors, residents call for Salt Lake County to reject new Olympia Hills housing project

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Mayor Trent Staggs of Riverton, left, and Mayor Derk Timothy of Bluffdale, go before the Salt Lake County City Council on Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020, to express their opposition to Olympia Hills, a high-density development proposed outside of Herriman.

Herriman • Heavy opposition surfaced on several fronts Tuesday for Olympia Hills, the controversial development proposed on Herriman’s western border.

Hundreds of area residents packed into a hearing on the project, with the majority urging Salt Lake County Council members to reject the latest application from developer Doug Young and his partner Cory Shupe for approval to build the 933-acre, 6,330 home master-planned community.

Nearly 40 people spoke Tuesday evening, with all asking the council to vote down or delay Olympia Hills. As those residents testified, scores more raised their hands in the audience to signal their agreement with key points.

Earlier in the day, mayors from Herriman, Riverton and Bluffdale also urged the council to turn Olympia Hills down, warning county leaders the high-density development is too big and the process is moving too fast, with the potential to harm the quality of life of the region’s existing residents.

“We are not at all opposed to growth. We are the poster children of growth in this county,” said Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs, noting that cities in the southwest valley have added thousands of new residents and homes in recent years.

“We just want to see growth done in a smart and very responsible way,” Staggs said.

Residents and elected leaders alike worry the development will bring additional traffic to already packed roads, snarling commutes and potentially making them more dangerous. They also fear it will worsen air quality, push up water and tax rates and create new demand for area public schools, judging from sometimes heated testimony in the three-hour meeting.

“This plan seems like a teetering stack of dominos, with one assumption based on another,” said Justin Swain, organizer for the group Utah for Responsible Growth. “That’s a big risk to take, especially for something that will become permanent in our environment.”

Red-and-white yard signs — featuring opponents’ social media hashtag #OHno — lined the entrance of Herriman’s Copper Mountain Middle School as more than 300 residents and homeowners from surrounding cities filled the school’s auditorium.

Residents, mayors and other elected leaders also took issue with the county’s plans to oblige developers to pay for impacts inside and outside the project, particularly road improvements. Area residents, they said, are already plagued by heavy congestion on east-west surface roads in that part of the county.

Many said they supported delaying the project at least until state funding was officially set aside for expanding key routes such as Bangerter Highway and Mountain View Corridor — or even add a new multi-lane freeway to serve the area.

“Thousands of your constituents will be oppressed if you do this now,” said Julie Holbrook, a retiree living in Daybreak, a master-planned community in South Jordan.

The County Council is in its second review of the Olympia Hills project after an earlier, more dense version was vetoed by then-County Mayor Ben McAdams in mid-2018 amid fierce public opposition.

After more than a year of study since the veto, county planners have imposed new and strict design standards on how Olympia Hills would be built, including requirements for a diverse range of home and building types, with dwellings and commercial buildings clustered together and ample parks and open spaces nearby.

Todd Draper, head of the county’s Municipal Services District, overseeing county planning, said public concerns had been heard — and incorporated in detail into the county’s planning for Olympia Hills. Going that route, he said, gave the county important leverage.

Without that approach, Draper noted, the developers could proceed anyway with a less planned, more piecemeal development and the county would surrender much of its ability to require them to pay for any impacts.

“We care about this community,” added Bruce Baird, an attorney for the developers. “This has been the most open, fair and transparent process I’ve been involved in … This has made the project better.”

Baird said the Olympia Hills project was unique in requiring developers to pay for road upgrades inside Olympia Hills as well as beyond its borders. But while the county says it will require those steps, Staggs and others said its draft contract with developers is too vague on how that would happen. Cities, meanwhile, are hamstrung for ways to raise cash for addressing those needs themselves, he said.

The debate turned accusatory at times. Swain said many opponents of the project supported master planning of communities and welcomed growth. But backers of Olympia Hills, he said, had distorted their views.

“We’re concerned citizens, not ignorant NIMBYs,” Swain said, using the acronym for “not in my backyard.”

Swain and others challenged the developers’ claim that new housing in Olympia Hills would be built around offices for high-tech companies, lessening traffic from commuters. Without benchmarks requiring developers to bring employers in before building new homes, said Herriman Mayor Pro Tem Jared Henderson said, “that notion of live-work-play falls apart even before it begins.”

Staggs and Henderson said Olympia Hills’ latest proposed housing density of 6.8 dwellings per acre is still far higher than levels of three to five homes per acre set in their own city master plans.

“If we exceed that,” Henderson said, “it will create significant problems and a ripple effect for all those other plans.”

He added late Tuesday that the developers had sought county approval for Olympia Hills because Herriman had earlier refused to approve the project and annex it into city limits.

Up to 15% of the Olympia Hills’s single-family homes, town homes and apartments would also be subsidized to keep rents and purchase prices more affordable — a priority for county officials in light of a regional housing shortage.

But some residents questioned why the burden of addressing a statewide lack of affordable homes fell so heavily in their backyard, where large numbers of homes — a majority of them apartments and town homes — are already being approved and built.

Clint Smith, Herriman resident and city council member, said hikes in the region’s cost of living caused by Olympia Hills were instead likely to make housing in the area less affordable

The mayors and other residents also noted that between Daybreak and the cities of Riverton, Herriman and Bluffdale alone, building permits have been issued for up 30,000 homes to be constructed in the coming years.

With Olympia Hills to be built in at least four stages over more than two decades, Staggs and other residents also questioned if the project’s housing would come online soon enough to help with Utah’s current crunch.

Mayors and residents repeatedly asked county officials to delay any approval of Olympia Hills until a regional study of growth, commissioned last August by the adjacent cities, is completed.

County officials have said that a delay is not an option.