A decision by the city's Planning Commission to issue a conditional-use permit for construction of a shopping center at U.S. 89 and Shepard Lane was affirmed after a 3 1/2-hour public hearing Wednesday by the Farmington City Council.
Neighbors appealed the Planning Commission's decision, saying the shopping center will increase traffic and have a negative impact on residential neighborhoods around the site, on the northwest corner of the intersection.Some also complained about the center's primary tenant, a K mart store, saying it will draw a lower class of shopper than the city wants to attract.
One resident described K mart stores as "nasty" and said they don't fit the image that Farmington is trying to maintain - that of a semi-rural, quiet, small residential community.
The council voted unanimously to uphold the planning commission's decision but added a dozen additional conditions to the use permit. The developers, GFI III, will be required to upgrade utilities, streets and make numerous other improvements on the site, in addition to meeting landscaping and architectural requirements.
The U.S. 89-Shepard Lane intersection was targeted for commercial and retail development in the city's master plan adopted two years ago, according to the council.
The shopping center is an acceptable use within the area's zoning, it is across the highway from another retail center, and the developer has complied with all city requirements so far, the council decided, so there is no reason to overturn the planning commission's decision.
"I would have to vote for the proposal even if the project was in my own back yard," said council member Marda Dillree. "It meets all the city's requirements, it's an acceptable use under the zoning, and the city can't discriminate because of the tenant," she said.
"I know we'd all rather have a temple on that site, one that's nicely landscaped and with a jogging path. Or a Nordstrom," said Councilman Greg Bell. "But they haven't applied.
"These people have applied, they meet the criteria, and we don't have a legal right to turn them down," he said.
Bell also noted the city, by zoning the area for a special use and requiring a conditional use permit and site plan review, can impose tight restrictions on the appearance and operation of the shopping area.
"This is just the first step. Nothing is on paper yet. We haven't seen a site plan yet, which we get to review and approve," said Bell, an attorney who also sits on the Planning Commission.
"The whole thing has to come back to the Planning Commission and that's where we get a second bite of the apple," he said, urging the more than 100 residents who turned out for the hearing to attend the site plan review meeting and voice their opinions and requests there.
The site plan will be reviewed by the planning commission in its 7 p.m. meeting Thursday, Dec. 13, in Farmington's city hall.
Jim Talbot, a partner in the GFI III development firm and Farmington resident, said the vacant land has been explained to every retail and restaurant chain in Utah and only K mart is interested.
Although K mart stores are in Woods Cross and Layton, the chain is investing billions of dollars in upgrading its image, the type of merchandise it sells, and store remodelings, Talbot said. The Farmington store will be one of the first of the new-style units to open, he said.
Estimates offered at the meeting varied, but the city could net between $50,000 and $75,000 annually in sales revenue from the center in addition to property and utility franchise taxes.
The developers are also under deadline pressure to start work, Talbot told the council in an earlier meeting. Their agreement with K mart calls for the store to open Nov. 1 of next year, less than 11 months from now.
The developers told the council that if the city-mandated conditions prove to be too expensive, the project will die.