Richard Snelgrove: Why the Salt Lake County West Bench General Plan matters to you

As growth continues county must strike a balance between development and conservation.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Development continues to creep up against the Oquirrh foothills along the southwest bench in Salt Lake County near Herriman on Friday, May 17, 2019. A flurry of land use planning is underway covering SLCounty's west side, as growth pressure only gets more intense and we head toward a future of wall-to-wall city.

In Utah, we prize the natural beauty of our state and the outdoor recreation opportunities that allow each of us to experience it. As we approach buildout here in Salt Lake County, the preservation of such opportunities is essential, otherwise they will be lost forever at a time that demand for their use is increasing dramatically.

As part of the preservation and conservation planning process, Salt Lake County is updating its West Bench General Plan which covers the Oquirrh Mountains and associated foothills. The plan will become the governing document for development on the unincorporated area of the county’s west bench. It is, therefore, critical that we get it right and see to it that there is a proper balance between development and preservation because it will affect our quality of life for generations to come, and the infrastructure that exists to sustain it.

Much of the area of the west bench — at some point as determined by its property owner, Rio Tinto — will become available for development and will provide housing for future generations as the need arises. Nevertheless, within the plan, there has also been careful consideration of areas that hold valuable natural characteristics such as Rose, Yellow Fork and Butterfield canyons in the Oquirrhs that have been designated as “recreation conservation.” These areas are presently used by hikers, equestrians and mountain bikers.

In addition, Salt Lake County has plans for a greatly expanded trail network there, including a westside extension of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail. This will help take pressure off the Wasatch Canyons and provide critical outdoor recreation opportunities to an ever-increasing westside population. Lastly, thanks to Rio Tinto, the Audubon Society and a duck club, there will be a large waterfowl refuge near the Great Salt Lake.

One additional issue remains to be decided. There is a canyon on the east slope of the Oquirrh Mountains that is as majestic as any along the Wasatch Front. It is called Coon Canyon and has two large areas known as Soldier Flats and Knee Weakener. These areas are currently proposed for zoning as “mountain communities,” which will allow some development. As we approach buildout with an anticipated 1.5 million residents in Salt Lake County, outdoor conservation and recreational opportunities will be increasingly in demand and come at a premium.

Therefore, I believe that it would be in the public’s best interest to designate these areas as “recreation conservation” like Rose and Yellow Fork canyons, and ask for Rio Tinto’s support in the matter. Coon Canyon is pristine and has been mostly off limits to human activity since shortly after the pioneers arrived in this valley. It is a treasure worth preserving for the enjoyment of future generations, especially those on the west side of Salt Lake County.

Allowing development in the foothills while conserving the areas noted would, I believe, be a fair and balanced approach. This would also be in keeping with Rio Tinto’s long-standing practice of being a good corporate citizen in which they have expended tens of millions of dollars beyond legal requirements to address air, land, and water conservation and pollution issues.

Information regarding the Salt Lake County West Bench Plan can be found here. Approval of the West Bench Plan will be advancing to the Salt Lake County Council for review, consideration and adoption in next few months. The future development of the west bench of the Oquirrh Mountains must be done properly to enhance our quality of life because there will be no do-overs.

Your thoughts and opinions on this issue are welcome by members of the County Council.

Richard Snelgrove | Salt Lake County Council

Richard Snelgrove, Murray, is an at-large member of the Salt Lake County Council.