SALT LAKE CITY — Voters across the Wasatch Front weighed in Tuesday on the fate of multiple ballot questions that will have an impact on local issues ranging from more money for roads to whether proposed high-density projects will survive citizen pushback.
In Salt Lake City, unofficial election night results showed the $87 million bond proposed to fill what city leaders had called an "enormous financial pothole" winning early approval, with nearly 69 percent of the vote in favor and about 31 percent against.
In Holladay, election night results showed voters overwhelmingly rejected, with nearly 57 percent of the vote, a development on the 57-acre site of the shuttered Cottonwood Mall, where developers have proposed and city officials have approved 775 high-rise apartments, more than 200 homes, and dozens of shops and restaurants.
But whether Holladay voters' decision matters depends on a ruling still pending in the Utah Supreme Court.
In Orem, election night results showed a close race to either shoot down or approve a 1,600-bed student housing development near Utah Valley University. Results were razor-thin, showing 7,138 votes in favor of the development to 7,137 votes against.
$87 million bond
Looking to make a big dent in long-needed capital road projects, Salt Lake City leaders opted to ask voters to decide whether the city should take out an $87 million bond.
Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski and the City Council issued a joint statement Tuesday night applauding the early lead.
“When we put forth the Funding Our Future proposal in my State of the City address this year, we were focused on building a city for everyone,” Biskupski said. “By passing the streets reconstruction bond, residents have recognized the importance of investing in our infrastructure and the goal of making Salt Lake City’s roads better for drivers, transit riders, cyclists, and pedestrians. Now is the time for us to get to work.”
City Council Chairwoman Erin Mendenhall said the council decided to put the bond on the ballot "after hearing that our roads are a top priority for our residents."
“This was an opportunity to let voters decide, and the results speak for themselves," Mendenhall said. "All $87 million will go to reconstructing our city streets. We are grateful for the support of the City taxpayers and look forward to carefully putting these funds to work to improve the City’s streets.”
The bond will result in an estimated property tax hike of up to $5 a year for the average Salt Lake City house valued at $339,000, in place of two other bonds retiring next year.
The total burden of the bond would be about $48 a year on the average Salt Lake City home, according to city estimates.
Even though city leaders from Holladay and Orem approved the housing projects with wide support, a resistance of residents fed up with high-density developments in both cities harnessed the power of the referendum in an attempt to block the projects.
In Orem, however, results were too close to call Tuesday night, with proponents holding only a one-vote edge.
"I'm surprised," said Mark Tippets, an organizer with the citizen group Let Orem Vote, noting that the results of the referendum may not be known until Friday.
Tippets credited supporters of the referendum for helping with "our grassroots efforts."
"Win or lose, it was the citizens that did the hard work," he said.
While the fate of the Orem project will ultimately be decided when final vote tallies come in, the Holladay case isn't so simple.
Even though a ruling was expected for Election Day, the Utah Supreme Court as of Tuesday still hadn't handed down a ruling on whether voters' decision will stand.
City officials, arguing their approval of the Cottonwood Mall development was administrative, rejected the citizen-led referendum, but still put the issue on the ballot in case it was challenged in court. It was.
Referendum organizers sued, and 3rd District Judge Richard McKelvie ruled the first question — whether residents approve of the project — should be on the ballot, but decided the second question — whether voters approve of an agreement to give developers a tax increment subsidy — amounted to an administrative act and ruled it was correctly rejected.
Holladay officials and developers appealed the rulings to the Utah Supreme Court, leaving voters' power over Holladay's Proposition 14 in limbo.
"I remain both surprised and disappointed that the Supreme Court did not weigh in prior to Nov. 6. I think we all expected the issue would be resolved," Holladay Mayor Rob Dahle said Tuesday night. "We hope to have that decision from the court in the near future, as the city still desires direction regarding future disposition of applications to amend the Cottonwood Mall (plan)."Comment on this story
Brett Stohlton and Paul Baker, referendum organizers of the group Unite for Holladay, issued a statement late Tuesday, calling the results a confirmation of their efforts.
"Tonight, Holladay voters sent a very loud and very clear message to our city officials they are against this project," Stohlton and Baker said. "The election results have confirmed what we have tried to communicate for nearly a year that our elected officials need to push for a better use of this property. We hope to see the Cottonwood Mall site developed in a way that creates enduring economic and community value."