Blog: SLCo should Vote NO on Olympia Hills 2.0

By Lisa Brown. Posted: Feb 5 2020

On Jan. 28, 2020, at the second public hearing held for Olympia Hills, Utah for Responsible Growth had the opportunity to give a presentation to the Salt Lake County Council outlining our opposition to the current development proposal.  Justin Swain, acting as spokesman for UFRG, clearly articulated that we are not opposed to growth, and not opposed to master-planned communities that are well-coordinated from a regional perspective. He also acknowledged that we strongly support reasonable, proven measures to address affordability issues, infrastructure concerns, and sustainability.  Unfortunately, the current Olympia Hills proposal does not accomplish these objectives, and that we respectfully ask the County Council to vote NO on the proposal at this time. Here are some of the concerns that Justin highlighted:

  • Sustainable developments need cooperation and collaboration from all impacted parties.  It is counterproductive to the process when residents’ concerns are mischaracterized and manipulated by those proposing the development, as they have been by the OH development team on several occasions.  The fact is that urban development is not black and white. There isn't simply support of high density or support of sprawl. The word sprawl has become overused and misleading. Sprawl is not about single-family or multi-family, sprawl is simply uncontrolled, unplanned growth. Logical objections to 6300 units on 900 acres on the outskirts of town does not indicate support of urban sprawl.
  • Local communities know best what will work for them.  To date the Bonneville Research Study commissioned by Herriman is the only study to give a clear and objective indication of what makes sense for this area, (and it is nowhere close to what this proposal is asking for).  Even the Southwest Valley’s Land Use Plan is built around the General Plans of neighboring cities, and so it is all the more logical that a revision of it should draw heavily from the input of surrounding municipalities and residents.  As of right now, the Southwest Community Land Use Plan has this area planned for a maximum of 5 units/acre if certain conditions can be met and mitigated. However, those conditions are not being met by the Olympia Hills Master Development Agreement. 
  • The current proposal is heavily based on assumptions, and not realities.  It is a wish list, not a plan.
    • Assumption:  Live, Work, Play =  The developer’s presentation was filled with discussions of walkability, mass transit, cars optional, so great that no one will ever leave.  At the open house last winter we saw poster boards with the Facebook campus implying the notion of a tech-hub. These are all great things that no one is against, but using these huge assumptions as area impact mitigation is not okay. Especially when the message is, "We just need the density approved first.  Give us the density and we will produce 8300 jobs."
    • Assumption:  Transportation =  Again, the presentation on January 7th raised some serious concerns about the traffic mitigation assumptions being used to estimate the number of trips “leaking” out of OH. 
      • The presentation, and even the traffic study, were both filled with references to public transportation and mass transit.  However, there has been no mention of any funding set aside or even future plans for mass transit services to Olympia Hills.  The Hales traffic study even goes so far as to show future bus routes and TRAX lines despite that fact that there are no highlighted plans with UTA for such service.   
      • The presentation also suggested that at least 10% of traffic would remain contained within the 900 or so acres of OH.  Again, this is an assumption-based mitigation strategy with nothing in the MDA holding the developers accountable to provide the retail and commercial space that is supposed to provide that mitigation.
      •  The traffic studies have suggested numbers as high as 30,000 trips per day that will move north on Bacchus as opposed to east and west.  Again, this is an assumption that does not fit with real-life commuter patterns. 
      • It was indicated that MVC would need to reach freeway status by 2027 to accommodate this increased traffic.  As of today, the MVC expansion to 21st south freeway is expected to be complete in mid-2021. Currently, there is no procured funding to begin freeway alterations.  This means that, according to the traffic mitigation requirements, UDOT will have about five years to find funding and revamp the currently incomplete highway into a major commuter freeway.  This includes determining and executing a course of action for the roughly 17 intersections that currently exist, plus those that will eventually exist between 41st south and 201.
    • Assumption:  Job Centers = The keystone of this development dream hinges on the idea of internal job centers.  The developer presentation on the 7th of this month talked about OH being a draw to silicone slopes type companies because of some very desirable characteristics.  The specific characteristics they listed included major commuter routes and mass transit. Again, this is a huge problem. We just discussed the lack of planning and funding for public transit and major commuter roadway improvements, yet those are being listed as significant requirements needed to attract the job centers that are also supposed to reduce traffic.  Do you see the contradictions? This so-called “plan” is seeming like a teetering house of dominoes. We have major assumptions that are dependent on other major assumptions. 
    • Assumption:  Affordable Housing = There is a strong push to sell the idea that density equals affordability.  This is simply not true. 
      • Reputable data from leading organizations refute this idea, as does the current state of housing and rent prices in this area of the Salt Lake Valley.  
      • The fact is that desirability drives up prices.  Until the Wasatch Front is no longer a desirable place to live, housing prices will continue to rise.  It is therefore a logical conclusion that Olympia Hills - if it really becomes such a desirable place to live that people don’t want to leave  - cannot simultaneously be a mecca of affordability.
      • We have an ample number of unbuilt but entitled housing units across the southwest corner of the valley that counter the idea that we MUST create more housing NOW to solve problems of supply.  So why are we pushing so hard to add to the backlog? Why not do more to encourage action on the huge numbers that are already approved, and then take the necessary time to do things the right way moving forward?
      • For the last six years, we have been building higher density homes at nearly double the pre-recession yearly averages versus single-family homes, but it has not solved affordability issues.  The change we need is broader and more in-depth regional planning along with a thorough examination of affordability from an economic level.
  • In sum, this proposal is trying to force a square peg in a round hole.  Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the availability of land should not be the only thing we consider when contemplating a development like OH.  Instead, we should observe the characteristics of the area and surrounding community, then make a determination about what is sustainable and responsible. Planning and development should not be about what we want to do, or even what we think we should do, it should be about what we CAN do.  Information from The McKinsey Global Institute, The University of Toronto, The Cato Institute, and Chapman University strongly indicate that the Olympia Hills location does not hold the necessary characteristics to sustain a development of this density. Again, this is not to imply that we should ignore varying levels of density in development, but as the Landmark Design representative stated, “density needs to be put into the right places.”  And under the current proposal, 6330 units on 930 acres in the farthest corner of the Salt Lake Valley is just not the right place.