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Race for Herriman mayor centers on growth, with echoes of Olympia everywhere

Candidates Lorin Palmer and Clint Smith both say they want to preserve the suburban city’s character amid a population boom and rapid development.

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Snarled east-west traffic in southwestern Salt Lake County — including Herriman — is a major aspect of growth now affecting the city's race for mayor between candidates Clint Smith and Lorin Palmer. Current Herriman Mayor David Watts is not seeking re-election.

Turmoil over a large and contentious housing development known as Olympia may be receding in the rearview mirror for many Herriman residents, but the future it heralds is straight ahead.

Both candidates for city mayor in the Nov. 2 general election — Lorin Palmer and Clint Smith — say they want to preserve the “Herriman feel,” a friendly character and welcoming quality of life that have lured so many to their suburban community in southwestern Salt Lake County.

Both also acknowledged that will pose major challenges, especially in light of Herriman’s population explosion and the problems that have come with it.

Mostly farmland two decades ago, the city has mushroomed from 2,740 people in 2000 to more than 55,000, according to the latest census, and is on a firm path to top 100,000 residents in a few years. Traffic congestion, housing, a dearth of park spaces and other symptoms of rapid growth are dominant issues in the campaign.

Echoes of Olympia, with its 6,330 new homes proposed on 933 acres now being annexed into Herriman, also continue to resound.

Balloting will decide who will fill the next four-year term for mayor and Herriman’s City Council District 2 seat between candidates Teddy Hodges and Aly Escobar. Sherrie Ohrn, the council member for District 3, is running unopposed.

Housing, open spaces

(Lindsay D'Addato | The New York Times) A solar-powered apartment complex in Herriman, Feb. 21, 2021. High-density housing is an issue in the mushrooming city's mayoral race.

Palmer is a sales-manager-turned-stay-at-home dad who has long coached recreational youth soccer. He also is a co-founder of Herriman for Responsible Growth, a grassroots group that opposed what was then called Olympia Hills as plans for the massive residential development rolled forward on the city’s western border.

The Price native and his family have lived in Herriman for eight years and Palmer says he is in the race to press, among other things, for a balanced approach to addressing housing affordability in the city and across the region.

“It’s not that I’m against high density at all, but it has to be a mix,” said Palmer, who captured nearly 48% of the ballots cast in August’s four-way mayoral primary.

“People want to stay in Herriman, but right now we’re not building anything else,” he said. “So when they want to take that step up to, if you will, to say, a 0.2-acre lot home, there’s nothing out there so they have to leave our city.

“Everybody thinks I want one-acre lots,” he added. “No, one-acre lots are gone. Those are a thing of the past.”

He said he’d seek job centers along some of the city’s main arterials such as 11800 South, 13400 South and Herriman Parkway as a way of easing clogged commuter traffic. He also pledges to push for more parks, trails and other community spaces.

“We had seven suicides at Herriman High School four years ago,” he said. “I still think a lot of that is because these kids don’t have outlets. Out here, there’s nowhere to go out and just be a kid.”

Traffic, jobs

Smith, a member of Herriman’s City Council and longtime firefighter who heads the Draper Fire Department, drew more than 24% of the primary vote, edging out primary hopefuls Jared Esselman and Nicole Grange.

He grew up in the south end of Salt Lake County, moved to Herriman in 1998 and said he also sees housing as a critical issue for the booming city. Smith said Herriman’s tightknit and affable feel are put at risk by a steady outflow of residents as their life circumstances change and they can’t finding suitable housing options.

“I’ve had that question throughout the campaign: ‘Are you for high density or against it?’” he said. “It’s just not that black and white. I am for a balance of housing types in our community, where one housing type doesn’t overpower or overtake the others.”

He is calling for “good, effective long-range planning” to expand key transportation corridors in and out of Herriman, which commonly fall to a standstill at rush hour. Smith said he believes those are key to luring more commercial, retail and employment centers.

“That will obviously be a benefit not only to Herriman City as we talk about keeping property taxes low, but to everybody around because it keeps jobs close, keeps cars off the road and helps the environment,” Smith said. He also points to funding for improvements on 13400 South, Utah 111 and the Mountain View Corridor he helped lobby to get from the Utah Legislature.

Olympia, version 3.0

(Image courtesy of Doug Young / Olympia Hills) An early rendering of a community center at Olympia, a high-density development in southwest Salt Lake County. City officials in Herriman annexed the controversial development, now called Olympia, into their city limits and signed a new master agreement with developers of the 933-acre project.

Smith fought early versions of Olympia, too, alongside outgoing Mayor David Watts and others on the council — until the project was approved by the Salt Lake County Council, against the will of municipal leaders and residents across that part of the valley.

Smith then played a key role as a council member in negotiating with Olympia’s developers to reshape the project, even after those talks collapsed several times.

“I wasn’t going to let that stop me from at least continuing to reach out and to still have a respectful relationship and dialogue with the developers,” Smith said. “We tried to take what was already approved and make it better, and that’s exactly what happened in the process.”

Members of the five-member City Council, which under the city’s form of government includes the mayor, voted 3-2 in September to annex Olympia into the city limits and approve a revised master plan for the project. Among other changes, supporters say, the updated plan strengthened requirements that Olympia developer Doug Young and partners pay for all necessary upgrades to infrastructure such as roads, sidewalks and sewer lines.

“It did provide a lot of great enhancements,” Smith said, “things that will make that development much better moving forward.”

Palmer said he has made clear to Olympia developers “I don’t love it. I don’t think there’s enough commercial out here, and I still struggle that very few on the City Council have taken an active role on that.”

Endorsements, transparency

Three of Smith’s colleagues on the current council — Ohrn, Jared Henderson and Steven Shields — have endorsed Palmer in the race, although Shields voted in favor of annexing Olympia into Herriman and Henderson and Ohrn opposed it.

Several mayors across Salt Lake County, including Troy Walker in Draper, Jeff Silvestrini in Millcreek and Dawn Ramsey in South Jordan, have endorsed Smith, as have two area state senators, Dan McCay, R-Riverton, and Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan.

And there is another politician influencing Herriman’s race for mayor, although in a different way.

In late 2018, outgoing Mayor Watts drew public condemnation and calls for his resignation from fellow council members over allegedly making unauthorized purchases on a city credit card. He later apologized and eventually paid back the money but refused to step down.

Though neither criticized Watts directly, Palmer and Smith said the controversy had made transparency a major part of their campaign platforms this fall.

“That is certainly a big focus of mine,” said Smith, along with “restoring respect for the office of mayor in Herriman.”

Transparency, Palmer said, “is a big one. That’s huge. It is required by law, and I believe in being out in front on stuff and doing everything you can.”