Development is surely coming to this rural oasis in SLC. How it occurs is the question.

Planning commission has recommended a plan to allow more warehouses and business parks.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) An airplane takes off over undeveloped land in the Northpoint neighborhood of Salt Lake City in September 2022. Residents of the area have come under pressure to sell their homes to developers wanting to build commercial warehouse space in one of the last agricultural areas of Salt Lake City.

There aren’t many places left in Salt Lake City like Northpoint — a relatively rural oasis, where farms mingle with wetlands, warehouses and the bustle of an international airport.

Denise Payne has lived there — on the east side of 2200 West — for more than three decades. She reared her daughter in a three-bedroom ranch with horse stalls. She often walks or bikes the Legacy Parkway Trail and is involved in her small, tightknit community.

Many of her neighbors on that side of the road want to preserve this multigenerational legacy and, most essentially, their homes. But an updated version of the Northpoint Small Area Plan draft raises concerns in the community, especially after the city’s planning commission voted this month to recommend the City Council approve it.

The plan calls for transitional zoning, which would allow light manufacturing east of 2200 West, where most of the homes sit. The purpose, according to the document, is to mitigate the impact on residential properties from development of business parks and industries. But many worry that more warehouses could overpower residents, worsen pollution and eventually force them out.

“We already got the inland port going in, and who knows how many warehouses are going to be out there?” Payne asked. “I think the Salt Lake City government should try and help out a little bit. You know, more warehouses, more trucks out here. It’s just going to make it worse.”

Though Payne yearns for more open space and trails in the area, she and others see room for compromise. A grassroots petition seeks to maintain zoning for business parks west of 2200 West, while allowing agricultural zoning to continue east of the road for low-density residential development.

Payne wants her neighbors to be able to sell if they so choose, but the possibility of warehouses popping up in between homes and semitrucks filling the road frightens her.

“I don’t agree with putting the acreage out here as transitional because we aren’t transitional,” she said. “If you build warehouses all around us, that’s going to lower our property value, and it’s actually just going to force us to move.”

The plan has been controversial, and the planning commission’s discussion was flooded with public comments. Residents who want to keep their homes opposed it. Others voiced support, stating it would help them sell land where they no longer see themselves living.

Multiple developers also back the proposal, but even they have worries. The master plan recommends a Northpoint-specific development code, which would include a list of conditions promoting manufacturing and offices and limiting distribution uses. For some developers, the restrictions would limit the economic interest of the lots.

Some also point to the width of protective buffers between new development and wildlife habitat as potential problems, arguing that such spacing could devalue the properties.

The whole dispute has proved divisive for residents. “It’s just a constant barrage of developers wanting to come in and take it over when we’re a community,” Payne said. “We live here. This is our life.”

An inland port extension?

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) A view of 2200 West looking at a Dominion Energy facility in the Northpoint neighborhood of Salt Lake City in September 2022. Residents of the area have come under pressure to sell their homes to developers wanting to build commercial warehouse space in one of the last agricultural areas of Salt Lake City.

Amid the city’s housing crisis, the prospect of demolishing homes to make room for warehouses doesn’t sit well with Dorothy Owen, head of the Westpointe Community Council. She sees the residents’ proposal as a more environmentally mindful compromise that would help preserve the character of the area while still allowing some industrial development.

“One of the weaknesses of the plan is that it takes a silo approach. It looks at Northpoint, which is a really small area, and talks about the need for the city to have this warehouse district without acknowledging the inland port, which is all dedicated to warehousing and trucking logistics.”

For Owen, this is more than a neighborhood issue. It’s a warning of what to expect with the creation of the Utah Inland Port.

The residents’ fears are not unfounded, said District 1 City Council member Victoria Petro-Eschler, who represents the area.

“They are living in some of the most desirable land right now for commercial developers,” she said. “And they’re kind of at the very tipping point of some of the biggest changes happening in Salt Lake City and in the state.”

When the plan reaches the council, Petro-Eschler vows to push for more restrictions. She doesn’t believe, for instance, that distribution centers are the best use for the land.

“We need to start pushing towards jobs that actually pay you tons and that keep our economy thriving,” she said, “if we’re going to undertake a development this massive.”

The debate about the buffers’ width is emblematic of the tension between protecting ecosystems and permitting development, she said. If building projects are imminent, she said, the key is finding the best way to do them.

“Any developer who comes here and wants to buy land is going to have to understand that delicate nature,” she said, “and the rest of us are going to have to understand that development is coming to this area.”

Petro-Eschler said she is “more worried about this than the inland port.”

“At the inland port,” she noted, “we have a really strong interlocal agreement. We have partners to enforce measures that we put in place there.”

Plan highlights

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) New warehouse construction on 2200 West in the Northpoint neighborhood of Salt Lake City in September 2022. Residents of the area have come under pressure to sell their homes to developers wanting to build commercial warehouse space in one of the last agricultural areas of Salt Lake City.

After receiving feedback from all parties, the city amended the Northpoint plan in search of a compromise.

The city’s vision is to dedicate the business park area primarily for manufacturing uses and limiting distribution uses in campuslike settings. The intent is to not turn the area into a large logistics or distribution center, Krissy Gilmore, senior city planner, told the planning commission.

According to a city report, the area is destined to host industrial operations. There’s not a big impact in the community from the nearby airport, but as that master plan is built out, the city foresees more impact from flights in the Northpoint area.

“That’s one of the reasons,” Gilmore explained, “residential is not appropriate.”

The plan states that if the shift from agricultural to transitional zoning occurs, Gilmore said, it should be in exchange for the addition of high-quality jobs.

Another point of contention has been the width of the buffers. The new draft sets up a priority process for identifying wetlands and sets a framework to incorporate flexibility in those regulations.

The plan shows new business parks would have to be at least 200 feet from wetlands. In transitional zones, light manufacturing would need to be at least 75 feet from wetlands. That’s less than the 300 feet some advocates suggested in public comments.

Either way, Gilmore said, an approved business park west of 2200 West will change the area’s character. “We felt like light manufacturing industrial was the next logical step on the vision of land uses.”

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.