Salt Lake County Council allows vetoed mega development near Herriman to seek approval again — but suggests revisions

(The Salt Lake Tribune)

Last summer, then-Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams vetoed zoning for the vast, high-density Olympia Hills development near Herriman — a day after hundreds of people protested that it would overwhelm already overcrowded schools, streets and water systems.

On Tuesday, the Salt Lake County Council approved a procedure to allow Olympia Hills developers to reapply. But it included a long list of revisions that it wants to see before any final authorization.

“We’re not saying we’re going to approve anything,” Councilman Michael Jensen said.

He added that McAdams’ first-ever zoning veto created legal uncertainty about whether or how Olympia Hills could revise and resubmit its proposal, and the council is now resolving that as the one-year anniversary of the veto approaches.

That came the same day the council heard results of a study commissioned by Wasatch Front local governments that says for the first time, the top concern of voters is housing affordability — beating out education, air quality and the need to improve roads, bridges and transit.

Actually, all of those top concerns represent pain created by high growth, said Scott Riding, managing partner of Y2 Analytics, which conducted the study. “Two-thirds of voters currently see their communities as growing too quickly.”

Controversy over Olympia Hills — coupled with the need for the more affordable housing that such developments might offer — led to the launch of numerous studies by west-side cities, the county and others about how to best guide development of large undeveloped tracts on the west bench. But those studies may not be finished before Olympia Hills seeks final approval.

Nevertheless, the council called in its resolution Tuesday for inclusion of key suggestions that have emerged from some studies so far, including from growth summits the council held.

That includes leaving about 20% of any development as open space. It wants to see multifamily residential areas clustered around town centers where people can live, work and play — to reduce the need for commuting.

It wants a mix of housing types and options, including affordable housing and rental units. It wants land placeholders for transit rights of ways, trail systems, schools and churches. It wants roads that connect well to avoid funneling traffic to major arteries for most resident trips. It wants plans for adequate utilities.

When Olympia Hills was initially approved by the council last year on a 7-1 vote, it was billed as a planned community similar to South Jordan’s Daybreak but with triple the density — with 33,000 people on 938 acres. It would have had about 37 residents per acre. In comparison, Herriman has 8 per acre; Riverton has 7; and Daybreak has 11.

The proposal sparked an outcry from nearby cities and residents. It became an issue in McAdams’ race for Congress, when then-incumbent Rep. Mia Love attacked him for taking donations from developers. But then McAdams vetoed zoning needed for the development.

(Rachel Molenda | Tribune file photo) People sign petitions against the Olympia Hills Project on Thursday, June 14, 2018. Then-Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams held a public meeting to hear concerns from residents about the development.

Olympia Hills developers now have scaled back designs to just under seven units per acre, for about 6,500 homes with a variety of housing types to be built in phases around high-tech job centers. The plan is down from a proposed 8,765 homes in the original version.

On Tuesday, the County Council voted to approve its resolution to allow Olympia Hills to reapply, with only Chairman Richard Snelgrove opposing it. He instead urged holding the vote in two weeks to give the public and surrounding cities more time to weigh in.

Members stressed that no proposal is yet before the council, and it has taken no stand on how it may vote when and if one arrives. It merely is signaling some of the items it wants negotiated if the proposal moves forward again.

“We want connectivity [of roads]. We want affordable housing,” Jensen said. “We need transportation infrastructure. We need water. We need sewer.”

He said he wants the public to know the council has heard that message and will seek those things from Olympia Hills and other big developments. “We’re dealing with it.”

Justin Swain, a Herriman resident who is spokesman for Utahns for Responsible Growth, which opposed Olympia Hills, told the council that area residents are watching and are concerned.

He said they went to presentations by developers “hoping for something different. We didn’t see much. … It’s a lot of promises that don’t seem to pan out.”

Swain added that west bench residents want to know “why we’re being expected to kind of swallow these higher density levels more than other areas.”