Lehi • Years of rampant population growth are catching up with Utah County, and now some beloved open spaces at Thanksgiving Point may give way to housing.
The Utah Transit Authority and Lehi are collaborating on plans for state-mandated development around the FrontRunner station there, and private developers won initial approval a year ago to build up to 2,000 high-density apartments, spread over UTA’s 11-acre station site as well as several spots within the popular resort.
The transit-oriented development, or TOD, is intended in part to create more moderately priced homes while making a dent in car-centric commuting patterns and all that ugly traffic congestion across the region by building affordable housing closer to job centers.
The plans are also boosting the chances that the state will someday punch a key east-west access road, Clubhouse Drive, through the center of Thanksgiving Point and its top-class golf course — after lawmakers took over the commuter arterial along State Route 92 in 2022.
All this has some Lehi residents aghast. It has turned Granger Peck and other wary homeowners whose high-end properties perch around the resort into not so much NIMBYs (not in my backyard) as NOMGOCs (not on my golf course).
“It’s a magnificent, first-class course, and they want to turn it into a horrible joke,” said Peck, a retired university professor who moved to Thanksgiving Point in 2007.
He is among those campaigning to derail the Clubhouse Drive extension along with developer Slopes Residential’s plans for high-rise apartments and retail outlets on what fans of Thanksgiving Point know as the Cornbelly’s Corn Maze and the soccer fields north of FrontRunner.
“The citizens of Lehi do not want high-density housing in a resort for obvious reasons,” Peck said on a golf-cart tour, “and we don’t want roads to go through and destroy the resort.”
Resident Larry LaCroix acknowledges that he’s motivated as a lifelong golf fan to defend the 18-hole course’s lush fairways and putting greens, designed by golf legend Johnny Miller. “But that,” he said, “is not what this is about.”
“They want to spent $50 million of my tax money to go three-tenths of a mile to connect with 2100 North, which is already bumper to bumper because they’ve overbuilt the area,” LaCroix complained. “What a brilliant concept!”
Coping with record growth
Since its founding in 1995 by philanthropists Karen and Alan Ashton, Thanksgiving Point, with its farms, gardens and museums, now ranks among the county’s biggest attractions, with an estimated 2.8 million yearly visitors.
Over the same time, Utah’s technology-focused Silicon Slopes — with employers centered in northern Utah County and southern Salt Lake County — has exploded in size.
Lehi boomed from 47,300 residents in 2010 to roughly 86,280 this year and is projected to swell to 110,750 by 2040. Utah County, similarly, is now expected to top 1 million people by the decade’s end, up from its current 710,000 or so.
UTA’s new plan for its Thanksgiving Point station development found that over those decades, Lehi’s housing stock has skewed heavily toward affluent single-family homes, leaving it “socioeconomically homogenous” and with “significant need” for one- or two-bedroom rentals accessible to lower-income residents.
In 2020, Slopes Residential — a partnership of Lehi’s Stack Real Estate, Salt Lake City-based Gardner Co. and Thanksgiving Point itself — proposed building 5,837 residential units, including a 14-story apartment high-rise and office and retail spaces, as part of the new Lehi TOD.
The City Council rejected that plan outright. It’s since been scaled down to about 1,800 units after an extended back-and-forth between the city and developers over road and utility improvements and tying key upgrades to each phase of the project.
Lehi’s planners are readying those benchmarks, said Kim Struthers, community development director, for vetting by the city’s planning commission.
What about Clubhouse Drive?
The most recent scenario locates 1,250 dwellings on the Cornbelly’s site, 350 on the soccer fields and another 200 units on UTA’s parcel. Thanksgiving Point’s Electric Park and Farm Country, also previously eyed as development sites, are left out of the latest plans.
It also makes the Clubhouse Drive extension more pivotal to future work. City leaders, according to Struthers, have eyed the extension for years as a way of alleviating east-west traffic congestion, much of it stemming from a decade of record-setting growth and in-migration to Lehi and cities farther west.
In 2022, lawmakers ordered the Utah Department of Transportation to fund an environmental study on extending adjoining SR-92 westward through the golf course, with a view to absorbing Clubhouse Drive into the highway and giving the state jurisdiction over its future.
“We know we can’t do the 2,000 units without that Clubhouse Drive extension out west of the Jordan River,” Struthers said. “The traffic would fail at a certain point.”
That work, he added, “is now outside the city’s control.”
Will a TOD help with congestion?
Thanksgiving Point CEO McKay Christensen said key roads such as Triumph Boulevard and 2100 North are already traffic chokepoints as commuters from Lehi, Saratoga Springs and Eagle Mountain drive each day to connect with Interstate 15. Prioritizing those and other road improvements above Clubhouse Drive, he said, “is the smart way to go.”
More broadly, the CEO said, adding more moderately priced housing closer to the freeway as part of transit-oriented development makes sense for Lehi, nearby cities, tech workers and the resort’s own burgeoning employment base.
“It brings attention that FrontRunner is here,” Christensen said, “and helps people get in the habit of using it, which I think is a goal of all of the state.”
Christensen also said the idea adding more accessible multifamily housing to the resort matched the core intent behind the Ashtons’ creation of Thanksgiving Point.
“It could be a really awesome walkable community,” he said, “with green space, bike trails and open areas. That seems pretty consistent with that original vision.”
Struthers, Lehi’s community development director, said the city hopes it can slow ongoing traffic congestion by building housing around FrontRunner, as well as future transit stations and bus routes UTA envisions.
“It doesn’t mean that we won’t have traffic problems,” he said. “But it will make it less congested in the long run.”
Peck and other homeowners near Thanksgiving Point don’t believe it, saying they are skeptical a transit-oriented approach will have any effect on prevailing car-focused habits. They only see it bringing more traffic.
“The automobile and the garage will always be king. That’s what people prefer,” Peck said. “This is asking people in Utah County to start behaving like they live in Manhattan or Brooklyn or Queens? No way.”
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