South Jordan adds 2,285 acres with visions of another Daybreak

City is also laying plans to boost housing and transit construction to create a regional urban center, complete with a new Salt Lake Bees stadium.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) South Jordan is annexing 2,285 acres along the Oquirrh foothills owned by Rio Tinto's Kennecott for future development of a sustainable master-planned community southwest of Daybreak, along Highway 111, pictured Wednesday, March 29, 2023.

One of Salt Lake County’s fastest-growing cities is laying even bigger plans for expansion.

South Jordan is absorbing 2,285 acres along the Oquirrh foothills into its boundaries and has agreed to let the landowner, Rio Tinto’s Kennecott, develop a new community west of Daybreak with up to 11,450 dwellings.

It’s all envisioned as a kind of second Daybreak in terms of housing density and ample open space and, according to a top Rio Tinto executive, could take decades to unfold, depending largely on housing demand and how long the Bingham Canyon Mine continues to operate.

The city and The Larry H. Miller Group of Cos. are simultaneously pursuing aggressive plans to build out a downtown center within Daybreak, aiming to energize the popular master-planned community, opened in 2004, as part of relocating the Salt Lake Bees baseball team and its stadium to the rapidly growing suburb.

With newly approved tax powers created by the Legislature, South Jordan could add thousands of additional high-density homes in and around the 107-acre heart of Daybreak, while improving mass transit lines and stations serving that entire southwest neck of Salt Lake County — and saving scads of open space.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) A man fishing at Oquirrh Lake in Daybreak on Thursday, April 2, 2020.

Though on vastly different timelines, South Jordan’s annexation and the creation of a Daybreak-centered Housing and Transit Reinvestment Zone signal the sheer pace and continuing westerly path of the Salt Lake Valley’s development trajectory.

“Utah’s growing, and we’ve got a lot of people who want to move here,” South Jordan City Manager Gary Whatcott said of the city’s population rise from just shy of 30,000 to more than 80,000 in two decades.

“The pedal has been to the metal since, like, 1998,” Whatcott said, “and it’s never let off the gas.”

How to harness Utah’s growth

The Rio Tinto-owned site is open sagebrush lands south and west of South Jordan’s existing western boundary along Highway 111 and south of 11800 South, west of Herriman. It was historically part of Kennecott’s mining operations but has been contemplated for annexation, Whatcott said, at least since Daybreak’s inception.

Development of the first phase of a master-planned community on those newly acquired acres could be years, if not decades, away, depending on market conditions and metals prices. Yet the mining giant began petitioning in November to be folded into the city and drew City Council approval last week, though the boundary change requires a final signoff from Gov. Spencer Cox’s administration.

Mayor Dawn Ramsey said the annexation reflected “thoughtful consideration” and community and expert input as the city prepares for the challenges of advancing residential growth. “We remain firmly committed,” Ramsey said, “to smart planning, advanced infrastructure, efficient transportation corridors, water conservation, outdoor recreation and economic development opportunities.”

Clayton Walker, Rio Tinto’s chief operating officer, said with Utah being one of the nation’s fastest-growing states, “now is the right time for Kennecott to seek annexation and lay the groundwork for a multiyear process to plan and develop this land in a smart and sustainable way.”

Daybreak, at about 4,157 acres total, was created as a mixed-used and residential development in multiple phases, with portions of it built on a recovered mine waste site. Walker said several environmental and regulatory studies indicated “this area is safe for future development.”

A memo of understanding signed by Rio Tinto and the city entitles the mining conglomerate to build up to 11,450 housing units — for a ratio of primary dwellings to acres comparable to Daybreak as a whole. That includes detached and attached single-family residences, condominiums and apartments.

Green space and recreational trails are key

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) South Jordan is annexing 2,285 acres along the Oquirrh foothills owned by Rio Tinto's Kennecott for future development of a sustainable master-planned community southwest of Daybreak, along Highway 111, pictured Wednesday, March 29, 2023.

The memo — to be replaced, officials said, by a full master-development agreement as planning proceeds — calls for “an authentic sense of place that provides high quality of life to both residents and visitors” as well as housing “to serve a wide and equitable cross section of residents.”

Copious green spaces will be a cornerstone. At least a quarter of the land used in each phase of development must be set aside for public or private open spaces, and the nascent plan envisions a 30-acre park and two 10-acre parks — built by a future developer and owned by South Jordan.

Rio Tinto’s vision also foresees “an integrated trails network and appropriate opportunities for recreation.”

The western-most stretches might not be fully developed for decades or until mining operations cease, Walker said, and Rio Tinto plans to retain permanent ownership of acres just to the west of the new city boundary, creating a buffer zone for its mining operations.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) A partial land slide in the Bingham Copper Mine, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022.

The Bingham Canyon Mine is currently permitted to operate until 2032, but Walker said the firm is investing heavily in new ways to extend its operations past that deadline.

Rio Tinto’s memo gives it control over access points to and from Highway 111 and the Old Bacchus Highway and calls for at least two new fully signalized intersections.

South Jordan will provide water to the master-planned community though the Jordan Valley Conservancy District.

Fueling Daybreak

The Larry H. Miller Group of Cos. bought undeveloped portions of nearby Daybreak from the Minneapolis investment firm Värde Partners in 2021 for an undisclosed sum, part of an ongoing diversification away from the group’s core businesses in automotive dealerships and ownership of the Utah Jazz.

The Utah-based company announced in January it will move the Salt Lake Bees out of Utah’s capital after the 2024 season to a privately funded ballpark in Daybreak.

Trent Nelson | The Sale Lake Tribune Fans in the stands as the Seattle Mariners defeat the Colorado Rockies at SpringMobile Ballpark, Saturday March 30, 2013 in Salt Lake City.

That, according to Whatcott, led South Jordan to press the Miller Group to look at using a new zoning tool created by state lawmakers to help foster affordable housing around the Wasatch Front’s transportation hubs.

The resulting Housing and Transit Reinvestment Zone — approved by a special committee within the Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity — sits between two existing TRAX stations and is centered around a third proposed stop as well as the still-to-be-completed Mountain View Corridor.

Money from the reinvestment district — pooled from anticipated property and sales tax revenues of other tax entities such as the county, school district and utility districts — is meant to fund housing density that ordinary market conditions wouldn’t otherwise make financially viable, as well as funding transportation needs and water conservation.

Brad Holmes, president of Larry H. Miller Communities, the firm’s residential arm, said the new urban center would be a regional destination.

“Creating employment opportunities for the increasing population in the southwest quadrant helps residents to work, learn and play within close proximity to home,” Holmes said, “and reduces the impact on our infrastructure and air quality.”

On paper, the added cash would fuel up to $2.5 billion in overall investment, backers said, compared to $896 million if the housing and transit district hadn’t been formed. That, South Jordan officials say, will make a huge difference in combating a dire housing shortage.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) South Jordan prepares for Daybreak development by Highland Park with 6,000 additional housing units between the Kennecott mine and the Mountain View Corridor as seen on Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021

The plan will nearly double the number of multifamily units to be built in that part of Daybreak, to 4,462 dwellings, and triple or quadruple square footages of office and retail spaces, while creating up to 7,000 new jobs.

In some pockets, housing development would feature up to 65 living units per acre. Nearly 500 of the new dwellings projected would be kept more affordable, including 30% of units reserved for those making between 60% and 70% of area median incomes.

The approach could also help ease long-standing traffic congestion spurred by upward of a quarter of south valley residents who leave daily for jobs, supporters said. Of nearly 20,785 housing units anticipated throughout Daybreak under the area plan, nearly 6,000 would fall within a five-minute walk of a TRAX platform.

The plan would also expand park-and-ride sites while funding a regional network of trails for cyclists linked to nearby communities such as Copperton, Olympia in Herriman and future Rio Tinto developments.