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Residents and city leaders from southwestern Salt Lake County fought hard for several years to defeat Olympia Hills, a large master-planned development west of Herriman, right up until it was finally approved in early 2020.
Now, the 933-acre housing and commercial project is just called Olympia, and it is reborn under new city control.
With population growth all but breathing down their necks, members of Herriman’s City Council voted Wednesday to absorb the massive residential development into their city limits and shape it their way rather than accept the controversial high-density master plan approved by county leaders.
It is just as dense as before — 6,330 dwellings spread over hundreds of acres of farmland. Now, however, there won’t be any requirements for affordable housing — as there were under the county’s agreement with developer Doug Young and partners.
Supporters say the new deal tailors the sprawling, Daybreak-like development more to Herriman’s present and future needs, with the annexation taking effect in 2022 — pending approval by Utah Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson.
“I am confident that we sit better today than we did a year ago,” outgoing Mayor David Watts said of negotiations to remake the project under the city’s planning vision, which developers made a condition of their request for the unincorporated land to join the city and become part of Herriman’s tax base.
“When people move out here, the city of Herriman is where they look. I appreciate that,” the mayor added. “This development agreement and annexation will continue that, as well as keep the city financially stable well into the future.”
Backers of Herriman’s plan said its first-ever use of specially created public funding districts for each stage of the project ensured that developers will fully pay for Olympia’s community impacts as the city reaps greater tax stability and “many, many, many other advantages,” according to council member Steve Shields.
The agreement also requires developers to build adequate retail and offices in support of housing as they go, Shields and others said.
Yet after hundreds of hours of talks and public meetings since May, council members still split 3-2 on votes to accept Olympia’s request for annexation into the suburban community of 55,000 people. The agreement also spells out how developers will roll out and pay for those 6,330 houses and apartments, along with roads, commercial zones, trails and parks over the next generation.
Opposing council members and many residents were clearly frustrated that Olympia, at about 12600 South and 6800 West, will be no less dense — and located next to a cluster of burgeoning cities where services are already stressed, many commute elsewhere for work, and east-west traffic crawls at rush hour.
Council member Jared Henderson called Wednesday’s final votes “a gigantic opportunity missed to make a meaningful reduction on the negative impacts that Olympia Hills will have on our residents.”
Council member Sherrie Ohrn said leaders in surrounding cities and state lawmakers “are all shocked we didn’t negotiate down the density.” The city’s new plan also skews housing ratios too heavily toward multifamily dwellings such as apartments, Ohrn said, built “in the very farthest southwest corner you could go,” which will boost future transportation costs.
“It’s irresponsible to do that,” Ohrn said. “We have a lot of density but no housing affordability here to speak of. It’s concerning to me, and it’s been unfortunate.”
A tortuous path
The council’s deeply divided views reflect years of controversy over the prospect of putting thousands of new residents in those western Oquirrh foothills, identified by planners as holding some of the county’s last major swaths open to development.
On a smaller scale, disputes over new residential subdivisions in Herriman, Riverton, Bluffdale and South Jordan have become commonplace. Large portions of Utah’s dramatic population influx since 2010 have landed in southwest chunks of the valley.
When Olympia Hills first won zoning approval from Salt Lake County in 2018, the project had moved forward largely under the public radar. It had far more housing and was proposed at higher density than any city around it, including Daybreak, the master-planned community in South Jordan.
When area mayors and residents learned of it, public outcry erupted.
Ensuing complaints and big protests over its potential impacts on roads, water and schools led then-Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams to issue a rare veto of Olympia Hills.
Doug Young, one of the developers, and a partner, Cory Shupe, brought it back a year later with its current housing-to-land ratios. County planners imposed a detailed master plan and phased approach to development on the site.
Despite continued and intense opposition, the County Council approved the new version 6-3 just days before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
Supporters at the county, including Mayor Jenny Wilson, saw the vote partly as an endorsement for a “smart growth” approach to the region’s shrinking land stocks. Opponents warned it directly threatened the area’s rural character and quality of life.
In an interview Thursday, Young called the vote “a win for everybody — us, Herriman, the southwest quadrant,” and he said city leaders “really stepped up and embraced the vision. This will be an incredible asset.”
Young said though the new agreement with Herriman had no mandates for it, “obviously there will be affordable housing in Olympia. It’ll be blended in a way that won’t draw your attention to it.”
Herriman council member Clint Smith, who is running for mayor, said Wednesday that in early 2021, months after the county’s endorsement of Olympia Hills, city officials sought out the developers about reconsidering annexation into Herriman.
“I did not think it would be accepted or received well, based on the history and the public reaction,” Smith told colleagues, praising the developers for their “professionalism.”
He called discussions involving hundreds of residents to create the new deal in “a good, robust process” and said Olympia will bring much-needed new housing of all types to the community. He also praised city staffers and efforts to draw input from Herriman residents — despite the rancor.
“If it wasn’t a difficult issue,” Smith said, “we wouldn’t have put in the effort that we did.”
Financial windfall or ‘step backward’?
Herriman is forgoing the usual impact fees cities can charge developers when it comes to Olympia and instead will hold the project “responsible for 100% of the infrastructure inside the development: roads, park strips, trees, landscaping, sidewalks, trails, water pipes, stormwater management systems, etc.,” Shields said.
The city will also have control of every building permit issued, requiring the developer to update traffic studies at each step and, if needed, chip more money into road and intersection improvements, which supporters said eased worries the project will create more traffic snarls.
Olympia, said Shields, will be “the first development inside the city of Herriman to actually pay for itself.”
Parks will be within no more than a half-mile of every Olympia home — double from the county’s rule of a quarter mile — but under the new deal, park space above two acres will be dedicated to the city, Shields added, along with a robust network of trails stretching into the Oquirrhs.
Shields said Young and associates also have vowed to create a 14-acre park where Olympia adjoins the Hidden Oaks subdivision south of Herriman.
With building permits alone expected to generate $35 million, Shields explained, Olympia will yield $3 million more per year than what it costs Herriman taxpayers.
But Henderson said apart from requiring road improvements upfront and arranging park space in better proportion, benefits from the annexation and new development agreement “are pretty much negligible.”
“Instead of focusing on proper civic planning and reducing the negative effects of the density,” Henderson said, “this effort was based almost entirely on the false premise of a financial windfall for the city.”
The “vast majority” of meetings and discussions on the plan, he said, “were behind closed doors. Only the information in favor of the annexation was communicated to the public,” Henderson added, calling the project “a huge step backward.”
Watts, the mayor, said he hoped residents could move on after the latest vote.
“My house is on all of the maps we’ve seen,” he noted. “I will be directly affected just like all the other residents that live next door.”
Olympia, Watts said, “will last 30 years, and I hope to still be here in 30 years. My kids definitely will be.”
“I hope that time will judge me in a way that shows that we did something right by our community,” he said, “and that the five, six thousand families that move into our community based on this project feel the same way.”