Jason Olson
FILE - The nearly empty hall of the Cottonwood Mall Tuesday, July 19, 2005.

HOLLADAY — Some Holladay residents protesting a 57-acre, high-density housing development on the site of the old Cottonwood Mall have launched a petition to let voters decide whether to stop the project in its tracks.

"We feel like we can do it — but we need the public's help," said Brett Stohlton, one of the organizers of Unite for Holladay, the group collecting signatures for a referendum that would put the project up for a vote.

The Ivory Homes and Woodbury Corp. proposal, approved by the Holladay City Council last month, is slated to build a multi-use city center on the weedy property of the defunct Cottonwood Mall.

The development plans include 775 apartments, with a maximum height of 90 feet, or seven stories. The plan also includes up to 210 total residential units, including 79 single-family homes, 22 units of brownstone-style homes, 39 units described as "Creekside Manor" homes, and up to 40 retail shops and restaurants.

But Stohlton said the development would "plop" down an uncharacteristically dense community in the heart of a "bedroom community that has more of a rural feel."

"We're asking people for their support so that all of the residents of Holladay have an opportunity to vote on something that represents the character and nature of Holladay," Stohlton said.

Its the latest referendum petition in the Salt Lake valley. Earlier this month, Herriman residents outraged by the massive, 8,800-unit Olympia Hills development filed a referendum application to block the project. It has since been vetoed by Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams.

As of Friday, Stohlton said his group had "started to pick up steam" and early counts indicate they're already more than halfway to their goal of collecting the required 5,874 valid signatures by their due date, July 12. The signature requirement is at least 35 percent of the people who voted in the last presidential election.

"It's an incredibly tough task," he said, but added he's hopeful they'll reach the requirements to get it on the ballot.

Holladay Mayor Robert Dahle said it's well within residents' prerogative to circulate the petition, so city officials will have to wait and see what happens with the referendum.

But the mayor argued that the development plan, approved with a 6-0 vote, "struck a balance and a compromise" with the property owner and developer "that would make a positive addition to the city of Holladay for years to come.

"Personally, I think people are ready to move on and they want something done," Dahle said, adding that the land has been a "blight in our community."

"Nobody wants to look at 57 acres of basically weeds for another 10 years," he said. "(The development) would create some vibrancy in the area — commercial vibrancy to support existing retail in an area that has struggled for years."

Dahle also noted that the plan was only approved after "a pretty tumultuous" planning process, including negotiations to reduce the plan by more than 236 multi-family units and shrink the maximum height from 136 feet to 90 feet.

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While Stohlton argues city officials have given the developers too much tax increment financing, Dahle says the city will still get about $3 million in new tax revenue to the city over the next 19 years.

Stohlton argued the project is too big and too important for the future of Holladay to be decided by "just a handful of representatives."

Two referendum petitions are circulating: one to reject the Holladay City Council's vote and another regarding the project's proposed tax subsidy.

Correction: An earlier version said development plans included about 850 apartments. That number was listed incorrectly on the project developer's website. The project plans include 775 apartments.