Opinion: If The Point becomes Daybreak 2.0, we have failed

Even well-intentioned, community-focused, master-planned developments can fall short of addressing housing affordability.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) People recreate along Daybreak's Oquirrh Lake in South Jordan on Thursday, April 4, 2024.

If The Point development in Draper becomes Daybreak 2.0, we have failed.

While Daybreak exhibits some victories to be celebrated over the traditional suburbia that sprawls across most of Salt Lake County, it also serves as a cautionary tale of how even well-intentioned, community-focused, master-planned developments can fall short of addressing housing affordability. Housing affordability is getting exponentially worse for Utahns every day. If done right, creative development at The Point will make a positive difference. But this project also has the potential to magnify the valley’s growing problems.

From the onset, Daybreak was billed as a walkable community, connected to trails, pocket parks, shopping and with easy access to Salt Lake City. Appealing standards included front porches, varied home designs and price points and garages hidden in back alleys. Much of what was proposed sounded like a dream that would appeal to many Utahns. The approach would also add thousands of homes to Salt Lake County, ranging from starter townhomes to million-dollar waterfront properties, critical development to address the population growth in the 2000s. However, Daybreak missed a chance to substantially address housing affordability and responsible growth, had they pushed the concept further.

Instead of a cutting-edge, walkable, diverse community, Daybreak became yet another commuter suburb for wealthier Utahns. There has never been an emphasis on adding substantial affordable housing in Daybreak, which would have broadened the development’s impact on Utah’s housing crisis. There is a current plan as part of an application for federal Housing and Transit Reinvestment Zone funds for South Jordan, which could fund up to 500 affordable units in Daybreak. But without the funding, there are no projected affordable units in their future. Also, because of transportation issues forcing residents into car ownership, combined with limited options to work and live in Daybreak, mixed-use development hasn’t gotten off the ground within the suburb. Daybreak has failed to address affordable housing and walkability. How can developers at The Point learn from the mistakes at Daybreak and build an innovative, connected and sustainable suburb that also addresses housing for those most in need?

“A community for everyone.” This is a frequently touted talking point for Utah’s newest master-planned community. It is stated directly in the framework plan for The Point. But what are their metrics to ensure they actually build a place for everyone? Does “everyone” include building homes for the unhoused? Creative approaches to housing will help ensure this development truly is for everyone. How can housing affordability look different here from what’s been tried in the past?

One opportunity is diversifying housing types and density. Daybreak is roughly 4,000 acres, housing 44,000 residents, as of 2022. By contrast, The Point is just 600 acres, but will house approximately 15,000 residents. That indicates almost twice the density, which is a good start. There is also already evidence for public support for higher density housing, especially in the downtown area. The Point is also uniquely situated to achieve housing density and affordability because the property is state-owned land and will remain as such. Because the state already owns the land, there isn’t the land cost barrier to developing affordable housing. The state also has more control over what gets built.

Utahns in need of affordable housing also deserve choice. Affordable housing doesn’t just mean small rental apartments. Most zoning in Utah has inhibited development of housing inventory for first-time homebuyers. These don’t have to be single family homes. Duplexes, condos above shops or row houses are neglected possibilities. Shared equity programs, communal living (such as Wasatch Commons) and even sweat equity programs should be considered. Plans for addressing housing affordability at The Point should specifically address all possible avenues for residents to attain home ownership.

It makes sense for affordable housing to be developed at The Point. The planned walkability, transportation and economically supportive density provide better opportunities to underserved communities. In contrast to Daybreak, The Point is closer to the freeway and Frontrunner. There will be more opportunities to live and work in the same place, with the estimated 46,500 new jobs. The current plans also encourage car-free living. Eliminating the expenses of owning a car is one of the most impactful ways to help low-income residents thrive.

Because this project is state-owned land, Utah residents need to consistently apply pressure to planners and lawmakers to ensure affordable housing development is a primary focus. They are obligated to use this land to benefit residents. There is nothing more important than every resident having a place to live that they can afford. This is Utah’s biggest opportunity to make a difference in housing affordability and deliver on the promise to make The Point a community for everyone.

(Photo courtesy of Tayler Allen) Tayler Allen

Tayler Allen is a lifelong Utahn and a city and metropolitan planning graduate student at the University of Utah.

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