West Valley planners get an earful about Redwood Drive-In and swap meet

Three hours of comments from swap meet vendors, but no decision on a zoning change that could close the Wasatch Front’s last drive-in theater.

Para leer este artículo en español, haz clic aquí.

West Valley City • After three hours of impassioned public comment, West Valley City officials delayed a decision Wednesday on the future of the Wasatch Front’s last drive-in movie theater and the swap meet where hundreds of vendors sell goods every weekend.

Around 300 supporters showed up at West Valley City Hall on Wednesday to speak out about a proposed rezoning for the land under the Redwood Drive-In at 3688 S. Redwood Road. The meeting room was packed, with people filling the seats and lining up around the room. Many held up signs.

West Valley City’s planning commission considered a petition from EDGE Homes, a Utah home developer, to change the property’s zoning from “commercial” to “housing.” EDGE Homes has received approval from the drive-in’s owner, California-based De Anza Land and Leisure Corporation.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Protesters hold signs before the West Valley City Planning Commission meeting, on Wednesday, June 12, 2024.

Commission members debated the merits of the rezoning, with some speaking about the growth of West Valley City and Utah — but also saying they were listening to what community members had said about the swap meet’s cultural and economic advantages.

Only five of the seven members were present Wednesday, and they voted 3-2 against the proposal — not enough for a majority of four votes. The commissioners opted to try again at the board’s next regular meeting on June 26.

The crowd in the meeting room — many of them swap meet vendors and their supporters — jeered at Steve Maddox, founder and owner of EDGE Homes, when he started talking about plans for the Redwood land.

“I have read every email and text sent to me,” Maddox told commissioners. “I understand the dichotomy that we’re facing tonight, which is that there is a civic event on private property. … I’m not here tonight to debate the emotion. And I’m not here tonight to debate the discussion of the swap meet, and or the movie theater because it’s not in my control. I don’t own the ground currently.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Steve Maddox, founder and owner of EDGEHomes, speaks during the West Valley City Planning Commission meeting, on Wednesday, June 12, 2024.

Maddock talked about the plans EDGE Homes has for the land: Potentially 308 housing units, divided among town homes, condos and single-family houses. The housing would be aimed at “empty nesters” and “new families,” he said.

Steve Pastorik, West Valley City’s director of community development, read from a letter sent to the city from De Anza — which talked about the company’s history of owning and operating drive-in theaters. The company once owned 50 drive-ins, the letter said, but now owns only four nationwide, and they all are “underperforming and are being marketed for sale.”

The letter went on to cite the advancing age of the family members who own De Anza, increasing costs, limited operating days, the COVID-19 pandemic and the effect on the movie industry of last year’s actors’ and writers’ strikes as reasons the business “no longer yields an acceptable rate of return.”

Pastorik said he has received hundreds of texts and emails from people opposed to the rezoning. Their arguments against closing the drive-in and swap meet, he said, mostly fell into five categories: The living that vendors make from the swap meet; the landmark status of the theater; the additions the vendors and the theater make to the local economy; how the drive-in offers family entertainment; and that the area doesn’t need more high-density housing.

Cristian Guiterrez, a vendor and the lead organizer of the “Save the Swap Meet” campaign, said 500-700 vendors are at risk of being displaced. It’s a place of community, with long-standing legacies for many vendors. It also is the sole source of income for some of them.

This isn’t the first time the swap meet and theater have faced up against developers. In 2021, supporters were able to make a developer withdraw a similar petition.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Protesters hold signs before the West Valley City Planning Commission meeting, on Wednesday, June 12, 2024.

Guiterrez also spoke at the commission meeting on Wednesday. He asked the city council to “give us an opportunity and time to figure out a plan” — either to make the swamp meet a nonprofit or to find another solution.

“Give us time to plan something out and come forward to you guys with something that is suitable for the rest of the city and so that it is profitable for the city and for us as well,” Guiterrez said.

Many people told commissioners personal stories of community and entrepreneurship opportunities from the swap meet. Some argued that the swap meet vendors are no different than the businesses being pitched to by Gov. Spencer Cox’s “Startup State” initiative. One commenter said he was able to start a quinceñara company with his father after starting out at the swap meet — and that, because of the swap meet, he was able to buy his first home.

Another commenter read a letter of support from Sen. Luz Escamilla and Rep. Angela Romero.

One woman, who identified herself as a single mother, stood at the podium with her son, and got emotional telling commissioners that she is unemployed — but that the income she gets from the swap meet helps her family get by. The woman’s elderly mother spoke after her, in Spanish, asking the commission not to “discard people like old pieces of clothing.”

One commenter named Oliver said rezoning the land to housing would be a “disservice” to the community. “There are people there who consider it their home already,” he said.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Abigail Gutierrez holds a sign supporting the swap meet, before the West Valley City Planning Commission meeting, on Wednesday, June 12, 2024.

Maya Dominguez, who started coming to the swap meet with her husband Joey 15 years ago, said to the commissioners, “there are people that go there just to have community — this community. Please help us save our community.”

Chris Jensen, who identified himself as a West Valley City native and an architectural historian, told commissioners that “some of my fondest childhood memories are going to the Redwood Road Drive-In to watch movies with my family and the swap meet on the weekends.”

Jensen added, “I remember specifically buying, as a kid, airplanes you put together and Mexican blankets. That was a cultural experience that you rarely get in the state.”

The Redwood Drive-In, which opened in 1949, is not designated as a historical landmark, Jensen said, but it should be. “I’m here to tell you it is historic,” he said, adding that the swap meet is “a cultural landscape because of the diverse groups that it brings together.”

Rezoning the Redwood Drive-In property, Jensen said, “will cause us to lose a piece of Utah’s history that cannot be replaced. … It will also do irreparable harm to communities that rely upon it, which would eventually have a domino effect on all of West Valley City.”