Residents of Salt Lake City have long appreciated Brigham Young’s call for roads so wide that one could make a U-turn with a team of horses. Utah faces increasingly complex infrastructure decisions that demand long-term vision. Tuesday, the Point of the Mountain Development Commission published a status report of its progress to date. The report makes two observations clear:
1. The relocation of the state prison near the epicenter of Utah’s innovation corridor has produced something of a holy grail opportunity for successful regional economic development planning in the state.
2. If done right, taking advantage of it could be a once-in-a-generation opportunity to produce significant economic growth while simultaneously maintaining (and perhaps improving) the quality of life in the region — a balance hard to achieve by even the best regional planners.
To make community-driven decisions, and to achieve this balance, citizens and legislators must remain vigorously engaged in the process with an eye toward the best long-term solutions for the whole community rather than narrow interests or parochial short-term gains.
The commission has already made significant progress along an ambitious timeline for producing a land-use plan for the approximately 20,000 acres of potential development within the Point of the Mountain region. But the real heavy lifting is still ahead. Phase 1 included a “Listening and Research” portion. They have now entered Phase 2 or the “Scenarios” portion of the project.
This phase will allow for a public review and comparison of five scenarios that represent different views on how best to balance job growth, household growth, transportation infrastructure, environmental factors, recreational opportunities and of course the total cost to any potential public plan. The objective is for a preferred scenario to emerge in the January time frame. This will form the basis of funding strategies for both public and private financing.
That is where the rubber meets the road, and where many similar regional development plans either succeed or fail. Compromise and negotiation are critical. It is difficult to maintain a focus on what is best for the region as a whole over the long run, rather than what is best for narrow interests over the short term. This is where special-interest groups tend to engage most aggressively to promote and protect their particular agendas and passions.
The commission is to be commended for not getting bogged down by such special interests so far. It has facilitated a process that has successfully solicited input from a wide variety of stakeholders using many industry best practices. All of the scenarios on the table would produce positive outcomes for the state and the immediate region, and they appear to be better than taking a passive approach to the ongoing growth along the Wasatch Front. Some of the scenarios may hold the promise of creating the kind of balanced growth that could generate significant positive outcomes.
The next 90-120 days may well involve the commission’s most difficult challenge in the whole process. During this time frame, public officials, the general public and other stakeholders will seek a preferred planning scenario that, while not cast in concrete, could lay the foundation for large public and private investments in Utah’s collective future. Getting it right holds the prospect of what is elusive to so many communities across the country — economic growth combined with improved quality of life.