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Steve Griffin, Deseret News
FILE - Land between 6300 West and 8500 West and 12400 South and 13100 South in unincorporated Salt Lake County, foreground, that is proposed for the Olympia Hills development on Monday, March 11, 2019. Salt Lake County leaders have their eyes set on about 32,000 acres of undeveloped land in the county's west side, also known as the Oquirrh View area.

HERRIMAN — Salt Lake County leaders have their eyes set on about 32,000 acres of undeveloped land in the county's west side, also known as the Oquirrh View area.

After two years, the county's regional development team recently completed its study of the area, part of an effort to master plan and prepare the Salt Lake Valley's unincorporated west bench for future growth they say will inevitably come.

Meanwhile, a coalition of the county's southwest mayors, who have a history of frustration with the county, are gearing up for their own study of the area — one that the group's leader says will be more comprehensive as local elected officials prepare to master plan the Salt Lake Valley's last swath of undeveloped land.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
FILE - Construction workers build a home in Herriman on Tuesday, March 26, 2019. Salt Lake County and a coalition of southwest cities are conducting their own studies of about 32,000 acres of the county's last undeveloped land. County and city leaders say they want to collaborate, but studies so far have taken separate tracks.

County and city leaders say they want to collaborate, but the studies so far have taken separate tracks.

The county's study, reviewed by the Salt Lake County Council last week, seems to solidify what many southwest residents already know: Roads haven't been keeping up with rapid population growth, and it's going to take some major projects and planning to alleviate the gridlock now and in the future.

But it also concluded planners are going to need to start thinking differently to accommodate demand — and yes, that means not just single-family homes, but more town houses and apartments.

Study highlights:

• About 135,500 residents call the area home, representing about 57 percent of Salt Lake County's growth since 2000. That's about 15 percent of the entire state's growth during the same time period.

• For every 100 working adults in the area, there are only 33 jobs where they call home. That's compared to 84 jobs per working adult in all of Salt Lake County, or 72 jobs per 100 working adults in the Sandy-Draper area. This means more residents commute in and out of the area, and is a likely a culprit of the grueling east-west commute, county officials concluded.

• Each day, about 26,000 people living west of Bangerter Highway are staying in the area to work, but 112,000 are commuting out. Meanwhile, about 62,000 residents are coming from areas west of Bangerter, including Tooele County, to work in the area. That's 81 percent of working residents who are leaving the area for work — a daily net migration of 56 percent.

• Meanwhile, the housing landscape is changing. In 2000, single-family homes made up about 69 percent of Salt Lake County's housing stock, versus apartments representing about 22 percent and condos and town houses making up about 7 percent. Yet in 2017, single-family homes made up only 37 percent of the county's stock, while apartments made up about 31 percent and town houses jumped to about 28 percent.

"We've had a change in Salt Lake County due to availability of land, pricing of homes, change in the market that no longer is a majority single family, but a mixture of single-family, town homes and condominiums and apartments," said Jake Young, planning program manager with the county's regional development department as he presented the study to the County Council last week.

"This is something important to consider and know as we move forward in planning," he said.

And water, obviously, will be a critical issue, Young added.

"The overwhelming fact is water is available in the future, it's just going to be incredibly expensive," he said. "Conservation is going to be more important than ever."

So those are the challenges facing the county's undeveloped west side as Utah's population continues to boom. Salt Lake County's current population of about 1.2 million is expected to see an additional 600,000 people by 2065, according to the study. Many, if not most, will live on the west bench, Wilf Sommerkorn, the county's director of regional planning and transportation, told the council.

"The development pressures are certainly stirring out there, we know that," he said.

At the same time, the west bench has "tremendous potential," he said, "but to develop successfully, it requires thoughtful and collaborative planning."

This week, the Salt Lake County Council is scheduled to hear a presentation from the developers of Daybreak, the master-planned community in South Jordan that is seen as "kind of the gold standard," as Councilman Michael Jensen put it.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News
FILE - Land between 6300 West and 8500 West and 12400 South and 13100 South in unincorporated Salt Lake County, foreground, that is proposed for the Olympia Hills development on Monday, March 11, 2019.

City frustrations

The study results come at a time when relations between Salt Lake County leaders and southwest mayors have been strained following the controversial proposal — then veto — of the 930-acre, 8,800-unit Olympia Hills development near Herriman.

The project, paired with a transportation sales tax hike last year, brought local frustrations to a boiling point when some elected officials accused county leaders of ignoring the county's west side. Those frustrations also led to an informal push at the Utah Legislature this year for a bill that would allow communities to "divorce" from Salt Lake County, though the bill ultimately died.

While reviewing the results of that study, county leaders emphasized multiple times their intentions to "collaborate" with the area's local elected officials as county leaders head into the next phase of their planning process: public engagement.

"In my life, I detest managing or leading in crisis, and if you look ahead of the curve and plan and have contingencies … I think it's a good thing," County Councilman Steve DeBry said, noting that he met recently with mayors from some southwest cities on the issue. "We need to continue to talk and work with those elected officials as we go down this road."

Meanwhile, Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs has been leading a coalition of southwest mayors from cities including Bluffdale, Herriman, South Jordan, West Jordan and Copperton Metro Township after they convened about a year ago to conduct their own regional plan of the entire southwest valley.

" We can't just plan things in a silo. "
Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs

While Staggs welcomes collaboration from the county, he also called the county's willingness to collaborate "reactionary" after frustrations over Olympia Hills.

"I'm happy that the county is willing to come to the table after seeing how little consideration, really, our communities in the southwest were receiving from many of the county leaders," Staggs said, though he credited County Councilman Richard Snelgrove for reaching out to southwest mayors lately.

"We can't just plan things in a silo," the mayor added. "We've recognized that in the southwest, and that's part of the genesis of (our) study."

Of the 32,000 acres of undeveloped land in the area, only about 6,000 acres are in unincorporated areas, according to the county study. The rest lies within city boundaries. That's why Staggs said the study commissioned by his coalition of mayors, called the Southwest Visioning Study, will be more "holistic."

"I question whether (the county) really needs to move much more on their Oquirrh View study, given the Southwest Visioning Study," he said, though he added, "I'm not saying the Oquirrh View study is a waste of effort, there's probably some data we might even be able to build on."

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The county in 2017 appropriated $200,000 for the study, after Snelgrove attempted to cut the money from the budget, arguing he'd received feedback from mayors that the outcome of the study wouldn't matter and mayors would do what's best in their own cities. The motion narrowly failed.

Staggs' group is spending about $250,000 on its own study, with $100,000 coming from the county's transportation sales tax hike funds, $125,000 from the Wasatch Front Regional Council, and about $5,000 from Riverton, Herriman, Bluffdale, South Jordan and West Jordan and $1,000 from Copperton.