Dan Thompson knows the acreage and owner of every parcel of land in the area near his home in northern Salt Lake City, where planes fly overhead and herds of deer run through the long, dry grass.
What he doesn’t know is what will become of the relatively rural neighborhood he’s lived in for more than 20 years once development begins on the inland port, a massive distribution hub planned for the city’s northwest side.
“This was nothing but fields, cows, that was it” when he moved here, he said. But “things are changing.”
Thompson and his wife, Natalie, live near an isolated and relatively minuscule sliver of the port that sits immediately west of I-15 on 2200 West and just north of I-80 on 2100 North. But they and other members of their neighborhood, which is located less than three miles from that future development, share concerns community members have raised about the port at large: that it will increase traffic, hurt wildlife and worsen air quality.
Dorothy Owen, chairwoman of the Westpointe Community Council, said that although she and other residents in this area are somewhat removed from the largest chunk of the port, she believes they’ll see impacts from the development first.
"Like the canary in the coal mine, if they’re harmed, they know that’s what’s going to happen to everybody else,” Owen said.
“We’re right here on the edge, she said, noting that she can walk from her front door into this slice of the port within five minutes. “We really know the land. People know the land there. And they know the water table. They know what’s going on out here, you know? They’ve ridden it on horseback.”
Without a business plan, which is currently in the works, Inland Port Authority Board Interim Director Chris Conabee said he couldn’t say exactly how this area, which he’s heard called “aerospace alley,” will develop.
“I don’t know that we know the plan for it,” he told The Salt Lake Tribune in a recent interview. “I know there were some recruitment opportunities around some aerospace companies that go back in our history over a decade that I think was part of the logic in that. I think the other part of the logic in that was if we’re going to have a port, it’s going to have access to air. We wanted that area to be looked at for that, as well.”
But Conabee said he imagines the area will primarily be used for the export of high-tech, lightweight goods and could therefore have less of an impact on traffic and emissions than residents have worried.
“We’ll look at the numbers when they come out, but I would imagine the airport expansion has more to do with emissions than anything the port will do," he said.
As Conabee alluded to, the port isn’t the only project accelerating development in this neighborhood located a short distance from Salt Lake City’s expanding international airport and Legacy Parkway, a highway near wildlife that currently bans trucks but will soon allow them. Ivory Development is also pursuing a project nearby that residents worry will exacerbate traffic and change the face of their community.
“I’m very grateful for having this wide-open space and sad to see it go away because I don’t think the thoughtfulness is part of the project,” Natalie Thompson told The Salt Lake Tribune. “We did have a 26-year master plan for this area prior to the inland port legislation, and I just wish they would have kind of stuck to that.”
Even before the state’s takeover of the inland port land in the city’s northwest quadrant, Salt Lake City had planned and zoned for an inland port — a development that was a cornerstone of Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski’s economic development strategy in 2017.
Community members have raised concerns that the city would have prioritized environmental concerns in the development more than the state will. But members of the Inland Port Authority Board in charge of overseeing development in the project area have argued that development under Salt Lake City’s base zoning could actually be worse for the community.
“The base scenario of doing nothing doesn’t help; it’s worse,” Conabee said. “The base scenario is just warehouses, trucks and no collaboration and no minimization of the facts and the pressures that are mounting from society.”
Denise Payne has lived in this rural slice of Salt Lake City for more than 30 years and said she’s never seen such rapid growth in the area. She’s worried about air quality and the impacts of traffic in her neighborhood once the Legacy Highway truck ban is lifted.
“This little two lane road that we live on, it’s just farmers and horse people that live on this road. There’s no cable out here, you know, so if we want anything other than antenna TV, you have to get satellite. We’re on a septic system and we’re only five minutes from downtown. But at least it’s still rural. Well, it was. I don’t think it will be anymore after this, unfortunately.”
Nichole Solt, Thompson’s next door neighbor, came to this rural slice of Salt Lake City four years ago, after she had “stalked” the area for around 10 years in the hopes of moving here. Now she, her husband, their two children and horses live on three acres of property that’s both rural and close to downtown.
But Solt said she’s already seeing changes in the community she’d dreamed of joining — and worries more is to come.
“The state is just pushing [the inland port] forward so much thinking that it’s going to benefit us economically," she said. "But I mean, I don’t think they’re looking at how it’s going to affect us environmentally in the future and just as a whole how it’s going to affect our city.”
And while she and her husband have no plans of moving, she’s also worried that this last vestige of agricultural life will soon disappear.
“Because of this inland port and because of the push [to develop], that is pretty much going to be extinct,” she said. “It’s just that lifestyle — you would think people would want to preserve it.”