‘Push the stop button’: Crowd condemns controversial Olympia Hills project, asks Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams to veto it

(Rachel Molenda | The Salt Lake Tribune) People sign petitions against the Olympia Hills Project, a proposed 8,800-home development project in the southwest part of the county, on Thursday, June 14, 2018. Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdmas held a public meeting to hear concerns from residents about the development.

Herriman • High-density housing rarely is a top issue in a congressional race. But Democrat Ben McAdams faced a loud crowd of 400 people Thursday griping about that growing controversy in his tight 4th District race against incumbent Rep. Mia Love.

McAdams, the Salt Lake County mayor, used a town hall meeting at Herriman High School to listen to concerns from residents to the proposed Olympia Hills project — a community billed as similar to Daybreak but with triple the density, with 33,000 people on 938 acres in an unincorporated area west of Herriman.

Meanwhile, Love has attacked McAdams for taking $10,000 in donations from project developers “right about the time he was negotiating the deal” and said he “refused to listen to the mayors and residents’ concerns” initially only to play power broker to solve concerns after the County Council approved zoning for it.

Dozens of residents of cities near the proposed development paraded to microphones Thursday to ask McAdams to veto the project — and sought a reversal by the County Council. Many gathered signatures outside for a referendum petition to overturn the approval if necessary.

McAdams told them, “I always make better policy decisions after I listen to different points of view. That is why I am here tonight,” insisting he was not there as a congressional candidate but as a concerned county mayor.

He said he is weighing whether to revise the current plan to make it more acceptable or require it to start over. The crowd cheered loudly only when he suggested starting over.

After that, McAdams joked, “I hope to hear from you tonight — and maybe I just did.”

He added, “The proposal as it stands now needs to change,” followed again by loud applause. “I believe the plan in front of us is too dense” and doesn’t have plans to adequately provide needed streets, transit, schools and water. The crowd also cheered that.

McAdams said he will make a decision in a few days.

“We all want to get this right,” he said about the project that as now proposed would be among the most densely populated areas in the county, with 4,738 apartments, 2,485 town houses and 1,497 single-family homes — plus retail space and a 100-acre Utah State University satellite campus.

It would have about 37 residents per acre. In comparison, Herriman has 8 per acre, Riverton has 7, and Daybreak in South Jordan has 11.

Residents talking at the town hall universally condemned the project and called for it to start over.

Camille Jensen of Riverton said, “We do not have the zoning, the infrastructure, the schools — any of that — to support a project of this nature. ... It’s not appropriate to build an entire city in my backyard.”

(Rachel Molenda | The Salt Lake Tribune) Richard James, Herriman, speaks against the Olympia Hills Project, a proposed 8,800-home development project in the southwest part of the county. Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams held a public meeting at Herriman High School on Thursday, June 14, 2108, to hear concerns from residents

Richard James, who has lived in Herriman for nearly 50 years, said, “When I first moved to Herriman, we had one road in here. We don’t have much more than that now.” He added that clogged highways cannot handle another large project whose residents would need to travel through Herriman to get to freeways.

Scott Watson said density in Olympia Hills would be akin to such big cities as New York City and Los Angeles — “and they have trains, light rail, fleets of buses. And what do we have here? I don’t know, maybe a couple of horses?”

He added, “Do not hit the pause button on this project. Push the stop button.”

Steven Shields of Herriman said, “Putting 33,000 people as far as you possibly can from the transportation corridor, hospitals, sporting venues and other supporting facilities is the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard.”

“We’re a mess out here. And this would make us a massive mess,” Scott Alden said about crowded roads and schools in the area. “I’d like to know … how did this development get this far?”

After long applause, he said the County Council “has failed us massively.”