When it comes to planning in rapidly expanding areas of Utah, citizens must stay involved to help shape the future of their communities.
There seems to be an interesting attitude change occurring among residents in Salt Lake County’s suburban communities where there has long been an emphasis on promoting economic development and growth of the tax base.
Voters in Sandy soundly defeated Mayor Tom Dolan in his bid for an unprecedented seventh term, suggesting a legacy of promoting development may have become more of a political liability. His opponent, Mayor-elect Kurt Bradburn, said the former mayor was all about “development, development, development,” while residents are increasingly concerned about what that has meant — traffic congestion, parking challenges, diminishing open space and pressure on the city’s infrastructure and operations. “This is about Sandy being so much more than just development.”
That has not always been the case. For decades, the city and others like it have chased an arc of rapid growth, creating incentives for businesses and housing developers and promoting a vision for a bustling downtown business district. The result, for Sandy, has been a thriving central commercial sector that includes a Major League Soccer stadium and a host of large retail and business establishments. To accommodate an influx of new workers, the city approved the development of mid- and high-density housing complexes, to the chagrin of longtime residents who fondly recall a more bucolic past.
A similar scenario is playing out in Herriman, where a petition drive seeks to force a vote on the city’s approved plan for future growth. The drive began after the City Council approved a zoning change for 270 acres of land for development of mid-density housing, something the council has since stepped back from. But petitioners are concerned that city leaders are poised to take the community down a road that will end with the loss of its rural, agrarian character.
Balancing growth and preservation is not an easy task, as many communities are learning throughout the Wasatch Front. When towns fill in and acreage becomes limited, there emerges an impetus for high-density housing, which triggers worry among those who cherish the traditional suburban array of single-family homes on quarter-acre lots. After decades of pushing for economic development, Salt Lake County is seeing a lack of affordable housing and few options for growing the housing stock without allowing higher-density developments. That may be upsetting to some residents, but younger people tend to prefer smaller homes in walkable neighborhoods and shorter commutes to work.
That residents are taking their concerns to the ballot box is a healthy thing. It means citizens are becoming engaged in a vital public discussion over the future of their communities. Growth will continue to occur, bringing opportunities for new residents and likely invoking an inevitable “not in my backyard” reaction among a segment of the established population. Effective civic planning must involve public input, which is what is fortunately happening in Sandy and Herriman and in other communities where residents are insisting they have a say in what comes next, where it goes and how it will affect their lives.