Construction of a 1,600-unit apartment complex near Utah Valley University will have to wait — and may never happen — after backers of an Orem referendum campaign on the matter submitted more than 9,000 signatures to Utah County elections managers last week.
Mark Tippets, an organizer with the citizen group Let Orem Vote, said petitioners gathered 9,122 signatures from Orem residents, well in excess of the 6,741 needed to force a public vote on a recent city zoning decision.
“We’re happy that we got such a high number,” Tippets said Wednesday. “It was easier than we thought, but they still have to verify them.”
Orem Deputy City Manager Steven Downs said it’s expected that between 15 percent and 20 percent of the signatures will be disqualified. But, he added, the volume of petitioners who signed on to the Let Orem Vote campaign appears to be enough to secure a public ballot.
“The number of signatures that have to fall off would be very high,” Downs said.
If the zoning change is rejected in a referendum, the five-story, high-density student housing complex planned by PEG Development and Woodbury Corp. would be blocked from construction.
The apartments, to be named Palos Verdes after a nearby street, were proposed to open in the fall of 2019 and would be the nearest housing option for students at UVU, which does not operate university-owned dormitories or apartments.
In a written statement, Woodbury Corp. chief operating officer Taylor Woodbury said it’s unfortunate that construction of the housing project has been delayed.
“UVU students desperately need this project and it will bring many benefits to the city,” Woodbury said, “including a reduction in rush hour traffic, increases in property tax revenue for Orem and the Alpine School District, and no-cost traffic improvements and crosswalks for the surrounding neighborhood.”
Woodbury also suggested that residents were given misinformation about the Palos Verdes projects by some of the people gathering signatures for Let Orem Vote.
”If this project is indeed put on the November ballot, we look forward to the opportunity to spend the next several months communicating the benefit of Palos Verdes student housing to the community,” he said.
But even if residents ratified the zoning change in a public vote, construction could still be delayed by more than a year.
Downs said the default timeline for a referendum would be during the 2019 elections — the next time the city of Orem is to hold municipal balloting — but city council members could take steps to place the vote on this year’s county ballots.
For now, Downs said, city leaders and the private developers are in a holding pattern while they wait for an official signature count by the county.
“It really is a waiting game for us all right now,” he said.
Tippets said the campaign assumed the vote would happen in 2019, as the law requires, and conveyed that information to those who signed the Let Orem Vote petitions. He said he would personally be opposed to the city moving the referendum vote up to November.
“That’s what people are expecting,” he said of the 2019 ballot. “If they want to move it up, we’d probably fight it.”
Tippets was also confident that if the campaign’s signatures are verified, Orem voters would reject high-density housing.
“I honestly believe that when it comes to a vote,” he said, “that we would probably win.”