Mayor's Message: Our Last Best Chance to Plan for Southwest Salt Lake County

Southwest Salt Lake CountyBy Mayor Trent Staggs

Attending Bingham High School in the late 80’s and early 90’s, I had the opportunity to meet many people and make many friendships from those that lived all over southwest Salt Lake County. The school border extended not just into Riverton and South Jordan, but also into Bluffdale, Herriman, and even into Lehi. The southwest valley’s communities were more distinct and separated at that time. Buffered by wide sweeping fields and farms, there seemed to be an enormous distance between cities. Not anymore.

Those natural buffers have been whittled down or eliminated in some areas to the point where one city’s development is literally on the others doorstep. Our beautiful mountain ranges on the west and east of this county act as a bowl-like boundary; forcing any travel to the middle. Accordingly, planning decisions from one municipality have large impacts upon another, compounding the effect even more so the further west those decisions are made.

The Olympia Hills development, as originally approved by the county council prior to being vetoed, would have allowed almost 9,000 housing units on 900 acres. That incredible density of some 30,000+ new residents at our western border would have proliferated traffic congestion and strained other utility infrastructure. All of the documentation I read, including the traffic studies, showed it was going to be a serious issue without committing some enormous financial resources to expanding infrastructure. Financial commitments to expand infrastructure were not included in the development agreement. It was in this context that I supported a statement of opposition to the project, along with our council. I also worked with mayors from surrounding communities to issue a statement of opposition, emailed county council members, took to social media, and supported the efforts of so many incredible residents that mobilized and made a difference.

As important as that opposition was, I believe it’s equally important to create a visioning document that can guide us as to more holistically plan for our region of the county. I’ve heard from so many of you about the struggles with traffic congestion, and have no doubt experienced it myself. My participation on various boards also alerts me to the fact that our utility infrastructure (water, sewer, etc.) is also under strain. With that understanding, I was joined by mayors in West Jordan, South Jordan, Herriman, Bluffdale and Copperton starting late last summer in a series of monthly meetings. In those meetings, discussions occurred that outlined our shared priorities and a vision for the future. These meetings continued on a weekly basis throughout the legislative session and helped to change a large narrative that was shaping in the legislature that our communities needed to do more to build housing and higher densities. It also shined a spotlight on our woefully inadequate infrastructure issues, particularly transportation, culminating in an op-ed and feature story about this in the Salt Lake Tribune.

The Southwest Mayors Coalition, as it has been called, made application and has now received $225 thousand in grant funds from Salt Lake County and Wasatch Front Regional Council to commission a southwest visioning study. Our communities are in the process of writing the scope of this study now and will be selecting consultants to help in that study by mid-May, with the hope of having a large component of the study finished by our next legislative session in January. The study is a project with the primary goal of reviewing land use plans of those six communities to understand the collective impact of all current or potential planning decisions. Ensuring that transportation, active transportation, transit, and open space needs are accurately determined, and effectively interconnected between our communities will enhance the quality of life for our residents.

We will seek input from the county, given their land use authority for the unincorporated areas in the southwest region to ensure we provide an accurate visioning document for the region. Once consultants are selected, the intent is to have all major stakeholders in our communities interviewed and engaged. This would include utility providers, school districts, major property owners, service districts, elected officials, and of course our residents.

We hope to conclude this process with a visioning document that can act as a framework for major growth decisions and infrastructure needs. This is no doubt our last best chance to plan for southwest Salt Lake County. Let’s get it right.