Can transit-oriented development work along Wasatch Front?

Great Recession likely to blame for lack of success at some sites

Published: Sunday, April 10 2011 10:00 p.m. MDT

Being forced to stop and consider those decisions, Taylor says, is "a healthy part of the slowdown in the economy."

To some extent, UTA officials agree with that assessment.

"There's no question that the economy really did slow down the idea of transit-oriented development," said Ryan McFarland, UTA's transit economic development manager. "But that's OK, because it gave us an opportunity to really get out there and plan. … Planning is critical. There are ways to make transit-oriented development successful."

UTA has entered into agreements to partner in two TODs — a shopping center/office development on 31 acres near the future TRAX stop at 3200 W. 8650 South, West Jordan; and a 4-acre development at 3900 S. West Temple, where plans call for construction of a 60,000-square-foot Salt Lake Community College office and classroom building.

The transit authority also plans to partner in three other TODs — a massive 60-plus acre project in Clearfield featuring 3,500 residential units, 143,000 square feet of retail space and 107,000 square feet for office use; a 48-acre mixed-use development near the Sandy Civic Center TRAX station; and residential and retail projects adjacent to the planned Sugar House streetcar line.

Action by the Utah Legislature in 2010 authorized UTA to enter into agreements with developers as a limited partner on up to five projects. Under SB272, the transit authority can contribute portions of land it owns around transit stations to a developer's project in exchange for a say in how to develop the land and a share of the profits.

"We really do want to see our stations become destinations," McFarland said. "Rather than selling our land off to a used-car lot, which really doesn't do a lot for transit, we'd really like to see destinations established at each one of these stations."

UTA officials say each "destination" will be different from the next. Not every site will be The Gateway — Salt Lake City's hub for shopping, dining and entertainment, easily accessed via TRAX.

"We won't have a Gateway-style magnitude at each location," McFarland said. "But they'll be destinations in their own right."

Station Park in Farmington, for example, will have a Harmons grocery store, as well as a 15-screen Cinemark theater and a variety of restaurants.

Perhaps as important as what each station has to offer is the ability to easily access other "destinations" along the light- and commuter-rail network, Ewing said.

When talking to students in his land-use and transportation class about what makes transit-oriented developments successful, the U. professor refers what are known as the "D variables."

One of the "D variables" is "destination accessibility," which takes into account how many attractions or jobs are accessible from a given site within 30 minutes.

Currently, the "destinations" using rail lines along the Wasatch Front are limited to downtown Salt Lake City and the University of Utah, Reid said.

"That's not awful, but it's not good," he said.

By 2015, that network will be expanded by 70 miles of rail along five lines, including an extension of FrontRunner from Salt Lake City to Provo. People will be able to take TRAX to Salt Lake City International Airport and several other areas of Salt Lake County.

"As the system becomes more complete, like adding the North Temple line (to the airport), you'll be able to reach more destinations, so destination accessibility will improve," Reid said.

The other "D variables" needed for a successful TOD, according to Reid, are "density," meaning more apartments and townhomes; "diversity" in the types of land uses, such as residential, retail and office; a "design" that is geared toward pedestrians; and a short "distance" to and from transit.

Most transit-oriented developments planned for the Wasatch Front possess many or all of those crucial variables, which gives Reid hope that those projects will be successful.

And he said it's far too early to grade transit-oriented development along the Wasatch Front or the success of a specific project.

Take Birkhill at Fireclay, for example. Only a fraction of the project has been developed as part of Murray's 97-acre Fireclay redevelopment area.

"How can you possibly judge a development that's going to have apartments, single-family homes, lots of retail and office (space) based on a single building? It just doesn't make sense," Reid said. "My sense is that Fireclay will be a pretty good TOD."

But Fireclay, like transit-oriented developments along the Wasatch Front as a whole, needs time to grow up, he said.

"Let's wait about 10 years until more of it is built and a lot more of the (transit) system is in place," Reid said. "It's going to be a whole different ballgame."

Email: jpage@desnews.com

Twitter: jaredpage

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