Ivory Homes
Artist rendering of proposed Cottonwood Mall redevelopment plan. Ivory Homes and Woodbury Corporation are proposing to build a mixed-use development featuring of upscale housing types on about two-thirds of the property located in Holladay, with retail and office on the remaining one-third.

While a recent Deseret News editorial attempted to balance the positions of the city of Holladay ("High-density growth highlights tensions between planners and residents," Dec. 26), its citizens and the developers, it did not explain the primary reason Holladay Citizens for Responsible Development opposes the proposed development plan.

In 2008, the city approved a beautiful outdoor mall with 600 residences. That plan had public money attached to it: The developer could earn $119 million, paid for by tax revenue the city would forgo for 20 years. To get the money, the developer needed to build 300 homes, provide a set amount of retail and invest $222 million in the project.

Then the recession happened. The development stopped and the developer went bankrupt.

You would think, after nearly a decade, the tax incentives related to the original plan would have expired. They haven’t.

New developers are trying to “amend” the 2008 plan that called for an outdoor mall. However, they propose to more than double the number of residences from 600 to 1,255 and cut retail space by 90 percent. That’s not an amendment. It’s an entirely new plan!

But the city is letting the new developers use the amendment process in an attempt to keep the taxpayer funding part of the project.

This is where Holladay Citizens for Responsible Development, a group of local citizens over 1,000 strong, takes particular issue.

This isn’t just about traffic, schools, density and building heights. While those issues are important, the main issue is our tax dollars being spent on an entirely new vision for the property — one inconsistent with the city’s stated vision — without our consent. If our money pays for any part of this development, then we have a right to meaningful input on what is built.

Additionally, the way the city gave this tax incentive has exacerbated the discord among the city, the developers and the public. The city requires the developers to spend $222 million and build at least 300 residences before getting the full value of the tax incentive. So, rather than building single-family homes consistent with the surrounding area, the developers are proposing two expensive nine- to 12-story apartment buildings totaling 550 residences in the first phase of construction. This will allow the developers to start collecting public money before developing most of the property.

In effect, the city has incentivized the developers to build what the citizens most oppose to get the public money. We are literally paying for what we don’t want!

We support private property rights, insomuch that private money finances them. In this instance, the developers should raise the funds and build at their own risk. Public money shouldn’t be in the equation; it’s altering the real economics of the project.

To paraphrase Adam Smith, the developers are going after the bounty on the tonnage of the ship and not herring in the sea. The tax incentive has distorted the economics of the deal in a way not originally envisioned. The city should expire the public funding and require the developers to submit a new plan that stands on its own economic merits. The city should let the market work.

Holladay needs to take commonsense, fiscally conservative, intelligent actions to bring this project in line with the real economic and physical landscape in Holladay.

Timothy Schimandle lives in Holladay and heads Holladay Citizens for Responsible Development.