SALT LAKE CITY — As Utah and Salt Lake City leaders huddle to draft legislation that would create a new authority to oversee an inland port in the city's northwest quadrant, city leaders on Tuesday painted a rosy picture of ongoing negotiations.
Though that's not without a lingering wariness of exactly what the inland port governing body will look like, what authority it might have and whether it might undermine the city's control over its last remaining swath of undeveloped land.
"I recognize the fear and concern," Council Chairwoman Erin Mendenhall said at the end of the council's weekly legislative update Tuesday. "But generally speaking, I'm very optimistic about the collaboration we've been experiencing with the state."
Mendenhall's optimism comes after city officials last week proposed a counter to the state's proposal to create a new governing body that might jeopardize the city's land use and taxing authority and give the state more seats on a governing body than the city.
Instead, Salt Lake officials proposed a commission that would allow Salt Lake equal power as the state in overseeing the area's development — made up of three appointees from the city, equal to the state — while also not removing the city's zoning and taxing authority.
The body would also create a business plan and recommendations to be considered in the city's planning and zoning process — but also may have some appeal authority, though the details are still being hashed out, David Litvack, Biskupski's deputy chief of staff, told the council Tuesday.
City officials met with state leaders, including House Speaker Greg Hughes, House Minority Whip Rep. Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, and Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, last week, and more are planned for this week, Litvack said. A city attorney will sit down with legislative drafters to begin writing a bill this week.
"It's continuing to be a very positive discussion," Litvack said. "I think they responded to the idea we put forth about land use and taxing authority and how important and vital those are to the city."
But it's not clear exactly what state leaders will find acceptable to include the bill, which Hughes has said he wants passed this year. A bill file under Stevenson's name is currently pending, titled "Port Authority Creation."
Stevenson declined to say whether or not he's supportive of the city's counter proposal.
"I'm certainly not going to commit to that right now," Stevenson said, jokingly adding the "newspaper is always a bad place to negotiate."
"I don't know, it just depends," Stevenson continued. "We've got several meetings it will take to bring us to a point of understanding. When you're negotiating, there's always a give and take."
Councilwoman Amy Fowler was frank about her fears as conversations with the state continue, though she acknowledged city officials "seem to be very much on the same page" regarding what they desire for the northwest quadrant and its potential global trade area.
"My fear, however, is the state is going to say: 'Here's our legislation and it takes away your tax increment and it takes away your land use, and there we go. Thanks for the conversation,'" Fowler said, asking Litvak, "On a scale from 1 to 10 ... How realistic is my fear?"
Litvack, in turn, told Fowler "I am actually pretty confident that is not going to happen," though he acknowledged the first draft of the bill may need some tweaks.
"But in terms of land use authority and taxing authority, I'm actually feeling pretty good about our ability to maintain that," he said.
Meanwhile, Salt Lake City leaders are moving forward independently of the state on their own plans to create an inland port, or a "global trade port."
The City Council later Tuesday night voted 6-0 to adopt an ordinance amending city code to allow "railroad freight terminal facilities" or "global trade ports" in the city's northwest quadrant.
Prior to the vote, a group of west-side city residents urged city officials to involve the public in discussions around the northwest quadrant's planning — and more specifically urged the creation of a 1-mile buffer around the new Utah State Prison from any railroad freight terminal, as the ordinance would for residential areas.
Though the council did not alter its amended ordinance to include the buffer for the prison, Councilman Andrew Johnston told residents they will "keep that in our heads" as they negotiate with the state and "revisit" the issue later.Comment on this story
Dorothy Owen, chairwoman of Westpointe Community Council who represented the group of 19 residents and organizations in the northwest quadrant, said after the vote she was "frustrated" the council moved forward with the ordinance without making the change and added "time will tell" whether city and state leaders will "honor" their promises.
"We'll see," she said.
A legislative town hall meeting has been scheduled for Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Utah State Fairpark Pioneer Building, 155 N. 1000 West, including Salt Lake City legislators, Hughes, Stevenson and Gibson to take input on the prison and the northwest quadrant's development.