As sure as the sun rises over the Wasatch Mountains in the east, growth is coming along the Oquirrh foothills to the west.
To that end, Salt Lake County has crafted and embraced a broad long-term vision to address that growth in the unincorporated areas west of Utah 111 (about 8400 West), covering everything from housing, land use and conservation to utilities, recreation and transportation.
The West General Plan, approved by the County Council this month, is the result of more than 125 meetings with the general public, landowners, military officials, bordering cities and other stakeholders since 2018.
It tackles a range of resident concerns such as the lack of diverse and affordable housing and, at the top of most lists, a longtime sticking point: transportation, especially east-west connections.
The final product considers modes for people of all ages and abilities, whether they drive, bike, walk or take public transit.
How to help people travel east and west
One goal in the plan is to explore the feasibility of east-west street connections to the Mountain View Corridor, Bangerter Highway, Utah 111 (also known as the Bacchus Highway), Interstate 80, I-215, I-15 and other high-speed roadways.
The county partnered with the Wasatch Front Regional Council, using the council’s 2019-2050 regional transportation plan, which covers roads, walking, bike lanes and transit.
This plan would serve as a guide as new development arrives on the west side. In the future, whenever developers submit traffic circulation plans and traffic impact studies, they would have to consider the area’s own regional network, according to Helen Peters, the county’s director of regional planning and transportation.
“Everything is at a very regional level because right now, a lot of that land is not developed,” Peters said. “... As developments come in, then they will negotiate with the cities that they annex into, to connect into the regional network.”
The county is planning for east-west expansions on various roads from state Road 201 (also known as the 2100 South Freeway) in the north to Herriman Highway in the south.
The regional council expects these improvements to be built in three phases and completed in 2030, 2040 and 2050. Projects include widening, new construction and operational enhancements to existing roads.
The key east-west routes include state Road 201, 4100 South, 4700 South, 5400 South, 6200 South, 7000 South, 7400 South, 7800 South, 9000 South, 11800 South, Herriman Highway, New Bingham Highway, South Jordan Parkway.
How to provide better transit
The county also is working with the Utah Transit Authority to expand public transportation out west.
Although UTA hasn’t identified specific transit improvements for the area, the Wasatch Front Regional Council’s plan does include transit corridors that serve as priority connections to the transit network.
The county expects to see buses with frequent stops and routes that operate every day, every 15 minutes or less, early in the morning until late in the evening. Bus rapid transit, an even faster service, would operate like light rail, essentially TRAX on wheels.
Prioritized routes include the 3300 South-3500 South corridor in West Valley City and neighboring Magna, the 3900 South-4100 South corridor in West Valley City, and 11800 South to the new Olympia development in Herriman.
More hiking and biking access
The plan calls for deploying biking and walking paths alongside Utah 111, making the west Bonneville Shoreline Trail the main spine of the trail system, and developing a corridor transportation master plan for Butterfield Canyon Road in the Oquirrh Mountains in collaboration with landowners, Tooele County and Salt Lake County Parks and Recreation.
Alignments are subject to change, the plan notes, and, in some cases, may not be possible until the Kennecott mine’s days are over, beyond 2040.
This plan is not set in stone, but it “helped start a conversation about the growth that the communities along the west areas of Salt Lake County are experiencing,” Peters said, and it assists in determining “where development, where transit, where trails, and open space need to be to serve all the individuals who will be coming and making this area their home.”
Canyon recreation vs. canyon development
Just before the County Council voted on the plan, Republican council member Richard Snelgrove proposed postponing the document’s approval.
The issue was a piece of nearly untouched land that belongs to Rio Tinto, Kennecott’s parent company, in the Oquirrh Mountains. The place is called Coon Canyon — named after the 19th-century settler Abraham Coon.
The plan proposes to change the zoning of two of the canyon’s areas, Soldier Flats and Knee Weakener, to mountain communities, which would allow residential, commercial and hospitality developments.
Some argue that this is a missed opportunity. Zoning those patches for “recreation conservation” would preserve them as open space recreational areas for west-siders.
“It’s Millcreek Canyon quality. And I felt that’s a unique amenity that deserves attention in the central part of the Oquirrh mountain range,” said Snelgrove, particularly when residents from diverse west-side municipalities such as Magna, West Valley City and Kearns could use those spaces.
The canyon represents an opportunity for the county to be more resilient to drought and heat by preserving it, said Olivia Juarez, board member of Utah Coalition of La Raza. It’s also a chance to fight inequity because those areas “have a unique opportunity to make Salt Lake County a place where everybody has the benefit of being able to be in nature to walk under tree canopies, and on dirt trails and see wildlife.”
Changing the designation of these areas might not be simple, and Rio Tinto doesn’t like the idea.
“By removing the classification of mountain communities within Rio Tinto Kennecott land and the future land use map, and replacing it with conservation or another adjacent designation, Salt Lake County is arbitrarily impeding the potential of this land and reducing the value,” Shannon Ellsworth, a Rio Tinto representative said in a County Council meeting. “This is a concern for us because the canyon areas in question have a direct operational use for Rio Tinto.”
What concerns Juarez the most is what this vision could mean for the Oquirrhs in 50 years.
“Our county leaders really need to stand by a vision that is for justice, for equity and just simply on the side of life,” she said, “of being able to thrive and adapt to the increasingly dry, increasingly hot conditions that we experience here in the county.”
What other cities think of the plan
The West General Plan won the support of South Jordan, West Jordan, Salt Lake City, Herriman, Bluffdale, Rio Tinto and the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District.
Some cities, including West Valley City, have reservations. Officials worry about high-density development in community master plans, which can include commercial buildings, town centers and residential neighborhoods. Housing densities for these communities range from four to six units per acre.
“This is not a recommendation of final density but a range for planning purposes,” the plan states. “Final density to be determined per ordinance and development agreement. Residential density should pertain only to residential lands and supporting uses such as parks, schools, civic,and mixed-use centers.”
For West Valley City, the inclusion of parks, schools, civic uses, and mixed-use centers in the density calculation means that the actual density of residential neighborhoods could be much higher than four to six units per acre.
This could translate to more congestion on east-west roads.
“With no significant analysis done in the West General Plan on the transportation impacts resulting from developments within master-planned community areas,” West Valley City Manager Wayne Pyle said in a statement, “the city is very concerned about how development in the master-planned community areas will eventually impact streets like 4100 South and 6200 South.”
Utah’s second most-populous city also believes that development in the foothills could provide a chance to create high-quality housing at lower densities.
“West Valley has a significant amount of affordable housing, including mobile homes, income-restricted apartments, duplexes and small single-family homes,” Pyle said. “The city is lacking higher-end housing which, in the city’s view, would be ideal in the master-planned community areas.”
Alixel Cabrera is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of communities on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.