Is one of SLC’s last vestiges of farm life about to be gobbled up by development?

Northpoint residents know that change is coming, but not everyone wants to sell and lose this rural haven.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Chris Souther at his home in the Northpoint neighborhood of Salt Lake City, Friday, Sept. 30, 2022. Residents of the area have come under pressure to sell their homes to developers wanting to build commercial warehouses in one of the last agricultural areas of Salt Lake City.

The thin farm road outside Chris Souther’s house in northwestern Salt Lake City cracks whenever heavy trucks pass by.

Souther’s 5-acre backyard is filled with horses, goats, corn and pasture. He has owned his home since 2009 after a search for a place outside of, but still close to, Utah’s capital.

He didn’t fulfill his first wish — the Northpoint area is within city limits — but his neighborhood, surrounded by farmhouses and open lands, still has the rural feel he desired.

Northpoint stands out as one of the last agricultural areas in the city. Farms coexist with wetlands, warehouses and the commotion of an international airport. Amid the industrialization of this space, a proposed update to the Northpoint Small Area Plan, which was originally approved in 2000, aims to protect the neighborhood and the wildlife it supports. But residents still have doubts about what the future holds.

Developers recently have gone door to door along the east side of 2200 West with warehouse proposals. Some of them warn neighbors about what’s coming — houseless and with more commercial buildings aligning with the adjacent airport and, farther west, the Utah Inland Port. They have a choice, developers say: Live next to a manufacturing facility or sell.

“Why is there all this pressure all of a sudden?” Souther wondered — until he saw the Northpoint draft plan’s update, suggesting a zoning change for areas east of 2200 West that would allow residential swaths to switch to business parks or industrial zoning. “That was just a big green light for them.”

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) An airplane takes off over undeveloped land in the Northpoint neighborhood of Salt Lake City, Friday, Sept. 30, 2022.

For Souther, selling is not an option. He intends to follow some of his neighbors’ example by resisting development pressures and keeping the land in the family for generations.

“There seem to be some different driving forces that do not have the interest of the community in mind. The interests of the community being noise, sound, air, water, pollution, traffic,” Souther said. “All these things that future light manufacturing and business park development and stuff like that would produce.”

Instead of replacing homes and farms with warehouses, Souther wants to add more residences. The land is vast, and the community has been there for decades.

Development is ‘already happening’

City planners don’t see the area as appropriate for a lot of new residential development because of its proximity to the still-expanding Salt Lake City International Airport. Though the city empathizes with community concerns, said senior planner Krissy Gilmore, the update is merely a response to already existing demands.

“I don’t think that we’re encouraging [development]. I think it’s already happening,” Gilmore said. “We had several applications already in our queue before this plan, with interest in developing industrial so I definitely sympathize, but I don’t think that this is pushing that.”

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) New warehouse construction on 2200 West in the Northpoint neighborhood of Salt Lake City, Friday, Sept. 30, 2022.

Chatter that many neighbors are selling and leaving the area has spread quickly, while the city hopes to accommodate both the existing rural residences and those neighbors who wish to leave.

“We have no plans to go out and rezone any properties. That would fully be property-owner driven,” said Gilmore. “If they want to rezone, they can. Otherwise, they’re welcome to stay under the current zoning as residential.”

The proposed plan also would set up buffer areas and design standards for industrial developments to mitigate their impact on the community, wildlife, wetlands and uplands. The draft is expected to go to the planning commission in late October. After that, the City Council would vote on whether to approve it.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Developers have approached first-term City Council member Victoria Petro-Eschler, who represents the Northpoint area, with industrial development pitches in anticipation of the inland port. For that to happen, she said, they need to be in line with some priorities.

One is to offer protections to the homeowners who intend to keep their agricultural lifestyle. How? By providing environmental safeguards, protections for their workers and reinvestment in the community through grants and programs.

“Business park zoning should probably go by the wayside,” said Petro-Eschler, who is a nonvoting member of the Utah Inland Port Authority. “It doesn’t do enough to protect or promote the kinds of jobs we want.”

Petro-Eschler is pushing for a light-manufacturing zoning overlay, which would restrict water usage to 200,000 gallons a day and limit the manufacturing that can take place.

Some commercial use is in the cards

But commercial use is occurring. Open land at 2691 North west of 2200 West is already committed for a multiple-use business park. And 162 acres of unincorporated land on the same road, between 2800 North and 3300 North along the Jordan River, might be annexed into Salt Lake City with light-manufacturing zoning. The project was formerly known as the Misty River annexation, which failed to join North Salt Lake. The proposed move into Salt Lake City is in its initial stages and has yet to be approved. But Petro-Eschler is enthusiastic about removing “arbitrary lines” that don’t serve constituents in the unincorporated area.

“It makes sense for them to be part of what we’re doing. And this area is set to possibly change the greatest over the next couple of years,” she said. “It makes sense for us to be able to advocate in their best interest and to work with them.”

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) The view of 2200 West looking at a Dominion facility from the front yard of Chris Souther in the Northpoint neighborhood of Salt Lake City, Friday, Sept. 30, 2022.

It’s apparent that change is coming, Petro-Eschler said, but the question remains: “How do we manage this growth in ways that protect as many people as possible and create the best outcomes possible?”

For Souther, the answer to that question might be keeping the zoning east of 2200 West as it is — or changing it to an agricultural district, which would protect those uses until the lands can be developed in the most appropriate way.

“I don’t know if this process is to just try to appease the community while they do their work, or if it is truly an effort to get what is best for that area and for the surrounding community,” Souther said. “Because I guarantee you it’s not to mix in residences and M-1 [light-manufacturing zoning].” That, he said, would repeat the saga of Stericycle, a company that recently shut down amid controversy sparked among North Salt Lake residents after it failed to control toxic emissions.

For now, residents of some of the 60 households listed in the Northpoint draft update keep adding comments, responding to assertions from developers who insist area homes won’t be there anymore in 10 years.

For Robert Taylor, who owns a home in Northpoint, the problem starts when developers put their best interests forward, crowding the comments on the draft and dismissing residents’ needs such as sidewalks, paths and buffers.

In the face of change, Taylor is already nostalgic about the feel of his neighborhood.

“Despite being close to the interstate and also the airport, it is fairly quiet and serene. Many animals call this their home, too. Owls, hawks, too many starlings to count, raccoons, skunks, snakes, coyotes, foxes, deer and even a few killdeer we have shared our property with. When people have come to visit … they often say, ‘I didn’t even know this was out here,’” he said. “We are more than OK with that.”

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.