Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski isn’t ruling out filing a lawsuit over the new international trading hub on more than 10,000 acres in the city’s northwest corner, but in the meantime she’s looking to the city’s planning commission to write the rules she hopes will govern the area’s development.
And in doing so, she plans to keep environmental concerns front and center.
The city this week will begin a series of meetings with the public where residents can tell officials what kind of regulations they’d like to impose on the businesses looking to operate within the new port’s boundaries in coming years.
The zoning work will represent the city’s pitch for regulating what will become a massive international trade zone created by the Legislature. It has been one of the most controversial and divisive policy issues in the state this year.
Biskupski, who has spent four months fighting lawmakers over the port’s creation, wants the regulations to reflect what she says are the city’s values of environmental protection.
“We are going to try to tighten the zoning through this overlay so that the environment is strongly protected,” said Matthew Rojas, the mayor’s spokesman.
The final regulations need signoff from the City Council. They could ultimately be tested if the city denies a project put forward by a business and that business appeals to the port authority’s board of directors, which has the final say over land use in the boundaries.
For example, Rojas said, the city could require all equipment used to move packages onto or off of trains, trucks and planes to be electric or emissions free so that they don’t contribute to the county’s already poor air quality.
“These are exactly the kind of things that an inland port authority could override unilaterally,” he said.
One of Biskupski’s primary concerns over the bills that set up the port are that they give ultimate land use authority to the port’s unelected board of directors. If the city and a developer can’t come to an agreement over a project, the board can overrule the city under the new law.
The city has until the end of the year to put zoning regulations in place under a compromise that passed during a special legislative session last month. That means the planning division must quickly hold hearings and write regulations based on feedback before it moves to the City Council, which has its own public hearing requirements.
The first open house will be at the Glendale Community Council meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Glendale Library. An open house will be held at the Day Riverside Library on Aug. 20.
“Unfortunately it’s on a very tight timeline,” said Deeda Seed, a former City Council member who has led the opposition to the port. “People need to engage now. Because as a city, if we don’t have a conversation before the end of the year, the Legislature will impose criteria on us.”
Legislators in March quickly passed a bill that created what will become one of the world’s largest landlocked shipping ports once it’s developed, over concerns from Biskupski and the City Council.
Council members later joined legislators and brokered a compromise without Biskupski’s involvement. The law prevents cities with land inside the boundaries — including Salt Lake City, West Valley City and Magna — from blocking the storage of natural resources like oil, gas and coal.
City Councilman Derek Kitchen said the council typically listens to the planning commission’s recommendations, and he agreed the city should listen to residents and put in place guidelines for the port’s development.
“How do we make sure, if we’re going to be storing coal for instance, how do we make sure coal dust isn’t blowing up into the airshed?” he said, adding it might not make economic sense for companies to store coal on the port’s boundaries. “We want to be mindful that it could happen.”