McAdams vetoes Olympia Hills development after Herriman residents protest

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams holds a news conference at the Salt Lake County Government Complex on Friday, June 15, 2018, to announce a full veto of the Olympia Hills development project in Herriman. McAdams was joined by Herriman Mayor David Watts, right, who did not have a statement but took questions from the media.

Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams says he will veto zoning approval by the County Council for the controversial, vast Olympia Hills project near Herriman that led to widespread backlash from residents in the largely undeveloped southwest corner of the valley.

“There’s a serious conversation we have to have about infrastructure developing at the same pace as housing,” McAdams said. “And I don’t think we have that balance right today. ”

McAdams made the announcement Friday, hours after he held a 2½-hour town hall meeting about it — and a long parade of residents condemned the project as too dense and complained that it would complicate already overcrowded schools and streets.

Olympia Hills is billed as a planned community similar to South Jordan’s Daybreak but with triple the density — with 33,000 people on 938 acres in an unincorporated area west of Herriman.

Olympia Hills, as proposed, would have about 37 residents per acre. In comparison, Herriman has 8 per acre; Riverton has 7; and Daybreak has 11, according to figures compiled by southwest county mayors.

The County Council, which voted 7-1 to approve the zoning change earlier this month, now has 15 days to decide whether to override the mayor’s veto, which would require six votes from the nine-member council.

Herriman Mayor David Watts welcomed the veto.

“The veto is simply an opportunity for us to start that process over again and make sure that all parties are included,” Watts said Friday. “To make sure we have something that’s going to benefit not only our community but the Salt Lake Valley as a whole.”

The issue has become a hot topic in McAdams’ tight 4th Congressional District race against two-term Rep. Mia Love.

Love, a Republican, has attacked McAdams, a Democrat, 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 try to be a power broker to solve concerns after the County Council OK’d zoning for it.

During the town hall meeting Thursday evening, McAdams said, “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.

He said he was considering whether to seek a compromise on the current plan to make it more acceptable or to start over. Residents urged starting over.

After the approval sailed through the council, members began signaling they were having second thoughts and voted to bring the issue back up at their next meeting Tuesday.

Several council members said they didn’t plan to override the veto, including Council Chairwoman Aimee Winder Newton and Councilman Steve DeBry. Newton was absent for the previous vote and DeBry was the lone dissenter.

Newton, who had signaled early support for the project before missing the final approval, said while she “wouldn’t support an override,” the county needs to address its future growth as its population — like that of the rest of the state — is set to explode in coming years.

“I’m very much a proponent of smart growth,” Newton said, “and looking at ways for how we’re going to develop our county so that there’s room for affordable housing.”

Several other council members declined to comment on the veto and said they had agreed to let Newton speak in their behalf.

“The irony is every talking point from the mayor’s veto proposal is what I have been advocating for several weeks when this proposal first came forward,” DeBry said in a written statement after the veto announcement.

“This project will probably come back to the council and I will work diligently to make sure the concerns of transportation, water, sewer, and density are addressed.”

Reporter Lee Davidson contributed to this report.