SALT LAKE CITY — Residents of a Sandy neighborhood are feeling frustrated and ignored after their efforts to put the brakes on a development that would bring scores of town houses to the area were stymied by City Council.
“The City Council, instead of responding to the citizens, just kicked it into the departments and into the back rooms,” said Reed Stallings, who lives next to the property.
Stallings was referring to last Tuesday's decision by the council to negotiate a development agreement for a 9-acre parcel of land near 10600 South and 700 East that could pave the way for 100 town homes, a sketch of the proposal shows. The City Council had originally been set to vote on rezoning the lot from commercial to high-density housing — a move the neighbors as well as the city's Planning Commission disapproved of.
Stallings, with many other residents, expressed concerns about the proposed development's density and that the town houses will be rentals, not owner-occupied.
“We want it to be a part of our community, not separate,” Stallings said.
Residents are frustrated because the advocacy they have done since August seems to have had no effect on council members.
"That goes against everything that we believe in about getting involved in our neighborhoods and making sure we have the community that we want," said Neal Summers.
He said opponents packed the council chambers last week, and only the developers and the five councilmen who voted for the development agreement were in favor of the project.
Summers has lived in his home just south of the vacant lot for 20 years, and he said many residents in his neighborhood have been there even longer. He is worried about crime associated with rental properties, more traffic in the area while his kids learn to drive and pressure on local schools.
"I just can’t believe the City Council would go against everything that everyone wanted. You just walk away thinking there’s something going on here that we’re not seeing," Summers said.
Many nearby residents voiced their concerns in a Feb. 7 Planning Commission meeting where commissioners unanimously agreed the proposal had too high of a housing density and gave the project a negative recommendation.
"We as a community, over 150 households, have been meeting with this developer since August letting them know that … it was too excessive and it wasn’t acceptable for us," said Kim McKellar.
McKellar has chickens and is concerned that the higher density will lead to complaints and, eventually, her animal rights being taken away. The McKellars bought their home 28 years ago and chose the area because of the larger lots.
"We wanted that feeling of being in open space," she said.
She said neighbors know development is going to happen, but their concerns are about the process. She said it is frustrating to have it out of their control when they have spent so much energy reaching out to representatives and attending meetings.
The residents spoke for almost an hour at the meeting, and then the council considered the proposal for another hour. After a vote to reject the rezoning proposal failed, a motion to address the proposal in a development agreement passed with a 5-2 vote.
Sandy Mayor Kurt Bradburn encouraged the council to vote on the zoning.
“I don’t think you owe these good folks a punt tonight, I think you owe them a decision to either rezone this property as presented or not," Bradburn said.
Bradburn said to the residents at the meeting he has met his campaign promise to preserve the neighborhood, saying original proposals were for even higher density.
In Sandy the City Council has all land use authority and its decision is not subject to approval by the mayor. The mayor appoints the Planning Commission and it gives an official recommendation, which in this case was negative. The council does not have any obligation to factor in that recommendation.
"It’s completely out of my hands now. … I’m hoping that they’ll ask for our input, but they certainly don’t have to," Bradburn said.
Councilwoman Brooke Christensen, who represents the residents neighboring the lot, voted against rezoning the property and creating the development agreement.
"I think it’s unfortunate, honestly, we have a planning department and staff and a Planning Commission that does an excellent job, and we completely circumvented the processes by taking it out of the planning department and planning commission’s hands and putting it solely in the City Council’s hands," Christensen said
Bradburn said he is not in favor of development agreements, which involve private conversations.
"I just lament the fact that (the decision) gets taken away and moved to a private contract situation," Bradburn said.
The mayor said the city hasn't done a development agreement before and the previous administration spoke openly against them.
Councilman Chris McCandless spoke in favor of the development agreement.
"This is a better route to make sure that the community gets what they’ve asked for," McCandless said.
He said the City Council represents both parties, the landowner and the residents. The development agreement is a way to work out residents' concerns with the developer and landowner.
"Sometimes you can get people exactly what they want, sometimes you can’t, and this way gives us the ability to at least take a different look at it," McCandless said.
He said the residents will still be able to speak out because the council will still have to consider rezoning the land after a development agreement has been made.
Bradburn said the city has struggled to find a commercial retailer for the property. A Ream's grocery store was on the property until it closed last year.
Developer John Thackeray said there is not a market for retail at the site, which is why he is proposing a housing development.
“We are not keeping up with the housing supply demands for people who want to live and work here in the communities where they grew up,” Thackeray said.
Many of the residents said they would be more content with zoning the property to allow six homes per acre, higher than surrounding neighborhoods, but Thackeray said he would not consider a lower density.
Resident Don Cann said he thinks even with all the residents speaking out against the issue, it is already a "done deal" and the decision was made before the meeting.
Council members received a memo from Mike Applegarth, executive director for the council, explaining development agreements on March 21, days before last week's council meeting.
"I don’t think they’re being honest with us. I think that there’s something going on under the table. I think that some of those council members are working a backroom deal, I’m not really happy about it," Cann said.
While the developer has donated to political campaigns, including to Bradburn's, the mayor denies any undue influence.34 comments on this story
None of the other council members show donations from the developer on their disclosure forms.
Bradburn said he made it clear to Thackeray, and others who donated, that the money would not result in any special treatment. He said he kept that promise as evidenced by the Planning Commission's negative recommendation.
"The donation made absolutely no difference in how this, or any other project, will be treated by me or my staff," Bradburn responded.
Robinson did not respond to attempts to contact him.