Founding chairman of Envision Utah returns to lead organization

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 14 2012 5:46 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Some 15 years after he became its founding chairman, Robert J. Grow will now lead Envision Utah as its new president and chief executive officer.

The change announced Tuesday represents a restructuring of the organization, with Grow replacing Alan Matheson, who served as its director until he was tapped by Gov. Gary Herbert to serve as his environmental adviser.

Grow, lauded for his skills in regional and urban planning, helped forge the establishment of Envision Utah in 1997 as a nonprofit private/public partnership specializing in broaching the complex challenges associated with metropolitan growth.  The organization brings impacted parties to the table, soliciting the input of more than 50,000 Utahns on public policy issues ranging from management of the Wasatch Canyons, the future of the Jordan River and planning for growth in southern Utah's Dixie.

The organization received a national award from the Urban Land Institute in 2002, the same year it won the Daniel Burnham Award from the American Planners Association.

Grow said the challenges that confronted Utah 15 years ago continue, especially those dealing with air quality and water because population growth will inevitably push those center stage.

"Air quality and water are challenges that remain formidable," he said. "We've been blessed with a lot of successes in the last few years, but we are the third fastest growing state in America. The challenges we had on air quality and water years ago are still with us because growth is still with us."

Gov. Gary Herbert, honorary co-chair of Envision Utah, said he believes it is the "right" time for Grow to lead Envision Utah.

“We are fortunate that Robert is at a point in his career when he can focus his energies and experience on his home state," Herbert said. "I speak for the people of Utah when I say we will all be better for his service.”

Grow, a Utah native, has traveled throughout the country as Envision Utah's "ambassador," helping other metropolitan areas jump start similar partnerships. He has helped initiate or strengthen regional efforts in more than 75 metropolitan regions, including Boston, Washington, D.C., Sacramento, Calif., and Calgary, Canada.

With degrees in engineering and law from the University of Utah and Brigham Young University, Grow has specialized in land use planning and zoning, real estate development, regional visioning and growth planning, and environmental law.

He was legal counsel for Kennecott’s Daybreak development, which has been cited as a demonstration project for quality growth. Daybreak was the National Association of Home Builders 2010 Community of the Year, with a platinum award for Suburban Smart Growth.

Carl Fisher, executive director of Save Our Canyons, said he is encouraged by the naming of Grow to lead Envision Utah, especially given the the organization's breakthrough public opinion research done on the future of the Wasatch Canyons.

"We think Envision Utah played a pretty critical role in gathering public sentiment regarding public lands, stewardship and future planning for the Wasatch Mountains," Fisher said. "We hope to have someone who can get behind those plans, and get behind the public sentiment."

He said the canyons study released in September of 2010, "Wasatch Canyons Tomorrow," underscored what several other Salt Lake County studies had pointed out for years: people place high value on the canyons and want them protected.

Community leader Pamela Atkinson, a former chairwoman of Envision Utah, said Grow's expertise in planning will help guide Utah in the decades to come, especially in such critical arenas as affordable housing and jobs.

Grow said he has a passion for Utah — to keep it beautiful, prosperous and healthy — and wants to carry that passion through with Envision Utah.

"I'm at a point in my career when I can give of my time and energy in ways that will further Envision Utah’s mission," he said.

He said when he first forged Envision Utah, it was with an eye to looking out for the quality of life for his children. Now, he said it is his grandchildren's turn.

"We need to make sure we give them wings to fly, not burdens to carry."

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