Amelia Nielson-Stowell: South Jordan is thriving in recession, thanks to savvy planning

Published: Monday, Nov. 2 2009 12:00 a.m. MST

"I knew even then that that wasn't going to last forever," said Money, now South Jordan's mayor.

The city has since worked toward balancing residential, retail, commercial and job growth, he said. Political silos aren't formed in City Hall.

Community development director George Shaw said the city's master plan has made South Jordan's growth so successful. Shaw teaches community planning at University of Utah and has helped turn Orem and Sandy into thriving suburbs.

While many cities try to grow following the trendy development buzzwords of sustainable, walkable and green, South Jordan is actively aiming to achieve it. Hence Preece's "director of long-term planning and sustainability" position.

"We're doing something here that people want to be a part of," Shaw said. "But we're still keeping that semi-rural feel."

As farms and large open areas gradually disappear, the city is keeping the rural atmosphere by staying heavy on landscaping, enforcing strict regulations for signs and billboards, building tree-lined streets, securing open-space and, more recently, preserving historic properties.

South Jordan is working on restoring the 1905 Samuel E. Holt Farmstead (also known as Aunt Mame's) at 10300 S. 1300 West. The spot will eventually be turned into a three-acre park and living history site.

"When I was growing up, there were maybe 1,000 people in all of South Jordan. It was very small," said Bruce Newbold, the 67-year-old grandson of Holt. "There's been a lot of big, big changes since I was a teenager. But the city is protecting the atmosphere of South Jordan."

Residential boom

Drive through the massive Daybreak development at the west bench of the city and you'll pass a picture-perfect Pleasantville-esque community — million-dollar mansions next to townhomes, groups of young moms pushing toddlers in jogging strollers, pocket parks tucked behind rows of houses, and a variety of housing styles that seamlessly blends a southern colonial next to a modern contemporary.

Daybreak is a just a small chunk of land owned by Kennecott Land — 4,200 acres of 93,000 the company owns. Roughly 8,000 people live in the 2,100 residences in Daybreak. By the time it is completed in 2024, the master-planned community is expected to hit 20,000 residences and some 50,000-60,000 residents.

Kennecott often gets a bad rap for being a behemoth builder; Daybreak itself tends to polarize people. But the variety of lot sizes, non-traditional neighborhoods, unique architecture, open space, transit-oriented living and front-porch closeness has appealed to young people. Even in a recession, Daybreak is actively building — and selling.

"The visionary entitlement we received in the first place made this all possible," said Don Whyte, Kennecott's president and chief executive. "We could adjust very quickly to adjust to market circumstances."

Flexible zoning granted by the city allowed for such development in Daybreak, Whyte said. It gave the developer the luxury of being able to decide what will go in without being held up by city politics.

So Daybreak homes are in walking distance from an elementary school, charter school, commerce park, shopping district, community center, churches, lake, parks and even a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints temple.

"In many cases, municipalities want to know exactly what is being built on every square foot of land. And we don't know what will be built 20 years down the road," said Whyte, who has developed planned communities in Canada, Colorado and Florida.

In a recession, that has allowed Daybreak to almost build in layers.

Two years ago when the economy tanked, Daybreak sat down with its home builders (more than half a dozen) and, at a time when credit was tight and people weren't qualifying for home loans, it retooled its pickings.

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