Anti-Olympia Hills group stops gathering signatures for referendum

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Justin Swain with Utah for Responsible Growth discusses the group's plan to launch a referendum to block the proposed Olympia Hills development and to ask for volunteers in that effort, Mar. 4, 2020. Plans for Olympia Hills call for as many as 6,330 new single-family homes, town homes and apartments and 1.8 million square feet of office and retail spaces to be built over 25 years in the unincorporated southwest corner of Salt Lake County. On Thursday, Utah for Responsible Growth suspended all signature gathering for the referendum, due to requirements that the group said made it financially unfeasible to gather electronic signatures.

Utah for Responsible Growth suspended all signature gathering for the referendum on the Olympia Hills development, the group announced Thursday.

The development was approved by the Salt Lake County Council on March 3. The group had three referendum petitions out in the community to collect signatures since March 30.

Due to the county’s “Stay Safe, Stay Home” order, it made it difficult for those signatures to be collected within the normal 45-day window. But with Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s executive order last week allowing for electronic signature gathering, the group started receiving “hundreds of signatures” immediately.

An April 3 memo from the lieutenant governor’s office, however, made things more difficult, the group says. The memo states that while the forms can be sent to voters electronically, the law still requires signatures to be handwritten. Furthermore, signature seekers must still send paper copies of the law subject to the referendum and the informational pamphlet.

Utah for Responsible Growth says those requirements made it financially unfeasible to gather signatures. One of the referendum packets is 277 pages, which makes the electronic file size too big to send via email.

And due to the requirement to send hard copies, gathering the required 82,000 signatures would have meant sending 60,000 individual packets to homes.

“Based on 277 pages from 60,000 homes, we would have been required to print nearly 16 million pieces of paper at a cost of over $1 million,” the group said in a statement. “For a volunteer resident group, this is an impossible amount to come up with.”

The group said that despite the cancellation of its signature gathering, it would not be deterred in its effort for “smart growth” in Utah. It also said the door is open for possible legal action.

“We will now shift our efforts to supporting candidates and policies that reflect our values,” the group said. “We have been told we have grounds for a lawsuit and we will look into all options. However, we encourage all of our supporters to help us make changes at the state, county, and city levels to elect people that will listen to and represent us.”