City Council Rezones Airport Property Amid Residents’ Safety Concerns
Wheatland Estates residents expressed their concerns about rezoning and changing the future land use of 23-acres of surplus property near their homes during the Aug. 24 city council meeting. (Tori La Rue/City Journals)
By Tori La Rue | firstname.lastname@example.org
The West Jordan City Council approved changing the future land use map and zoning of two city-owned surplus properties from their current designations to residential areas despite the planning commission’s unanimous recommendation to deny the requests.
Residents filled most chairs in the West Jordan City Council chambers on Aug. 24 as the council discussed the future of three properties on the west side of the city. In recent months, city staff considered properties they could sell to generate revenue to offset the cost of the new public works facility approved in February. The cost of the new facility is an estimated $23 million.
The city council amended the future land use map and rezoned about 23 acres east of Wheatland estates at 4652 West 7800 South and 6.5 acres in the Sycamores community at 7049 West 7800 South. The other 9.7-acre property, located in the Maple Hills development at 6543 West 7400 South, kept its former land use and zoning.
“If they wouldn’t have passed these, I would have called off the new public works building,” City Manager Mark Palesh said. “I needed at least two of the three.”
But while Palesh, public works employees and Maple Hills residents may be relieved, other residents, especially those from the Wheatland Estates community, were not.
“I really feel like our case was disregarded,” said Greg Leeb, a Wheatland Estates resident.
Residents on Airport Property Rezone
Led by Paul Emett, Wheatland Estates homeowners compiled a 39-page resident supplement packet about the airport property which they sent to the city council and presented to the planning commission. It explained their concerns about changing the 23-acre parcel into residential property
Emett said he and his neighbors thought potential toxic spills from the rail line and Utah National Guard Armory, potential aircraft crashes from the South Valley Regional Airport and annoyances from having the airport and armory so close, would be a detriment to future residents.
“The proposal rezone may place the bedrooms of sleeping children mere feet from the transport of hazardous chemicals, as well as yards from the storage of hazardous chemicals at the National Guard base to the east,” resident John Jordan said during the public hearing.
The resident supplement included a news story about a railway tanker spill in South Salt Lake in 2005 and a small plane crash in West Jordan Park in 2014. Residents said these catastrophes could happen in the 23-acres up for rezone.
“Accidents are hazards given enough opportunity,” Emett said. “Something probably won’t happen in next 10 years, but in the next 100, it might.”
Planning Commission on Airport Property Rezone
Colonel Tyler Smith, construction and facility officer for the Utah National Guard, spoke to the planning commission at its Aug. 2 meeting. The National Guard aviation support facility is home to 19 Apache helicopters, 13 Blackhawks and two Lakotas, and the parcel in question is in the direct flight path of the helicopters, he explained.
“So normally—under normal conditions—the aircraft try to stay about 1,000 feet as they’re flying over homes,” he said. “That would be impossible in this area. They would have to drop down to about 200 feet. So if you imagine living in one of those homes, and having a helicopter 40–60 times a week flying over your home, you can imagine the quality of life that would exist in that scenario.”
Judy Hansen, planning commission member, said she wouldn’t want helicopters to fly 200 feet above her. Kelvin Green, another planning commission member, said recognized the original intent for the property was for some kind of buffering back in the 1996 development agreement. Duncan Murray, city deputy attorney, said he didn’t think the city was bound by the old contract, but Green said he thought the city had an ethical obligation to do appropriate planning.
“If the city promised to have open space buffering, then why is there an urgent need for residential land?” Green asked at the planning commission meeting.
Green’s motion to forward a negative recommendation to the city council passed unanimously in a 6–0 vote, with David Pack absent from the meeting.
City Council on Airport Property Rezone
At the Aug. 24 meeting, the city council passed the rezone and land use amendment with stipulations to ensure a buffer would be built. They requested the future developer create a 60-foot protection strip trail with a minimum height of 8 feet next to the rail line. Council members Zach Jacob and Sophie Rice dissented in the 4–2 vote with Councilmember Jeff Haaga absent from the meeting.
Scott Langford, city planner, presented the staff’s findings of the property to the city council prior to their vote on the Wheatland Estates parcel. City staff said the area was consistent with criteria required for an amendment and rezone.
“The findings that the residents have gone through today—a lot of them are very subjective,” Lanford said.
Langford explained that the city’s agreement with the developer was very specific about where the open space need be and did not have a restriction that the 23-acre parcel stay open space. The master plan since at least 2004 had the 23-acre parcel and the neighboring 67 acres labeled “Research Park” not “Open Space,” he said. Over time, the development of the armory and LDS stake center left only the 23-acre parcel.
“In my professional opinion, Business Research Park is not an appropriate designation for this property,” Langford said. “We just simply don’t have the critical mass of area that we once had. So, following the direction of council this January when this property was declared surplus, we started to look around to see what was the most appropriate use other than Business Research Park, and knowing the neighborhood and the concerns of those at Wheatland Estates, we thought like zoning would be most respectful and most context-sensitive.”
Langford explained that city staff found a residential use for the area much more compatible with the surrounding areas than a research park designation. He said the master plan called for a trail to be built next to the railway which would buffer the residential community from the railroad. Neighborhoods to the south and north of the parcel in question are as close to the railroad without buffering.
“Do you want a 2- or 3- or 3-story research park moving out there—that’s what it is zoned right now —or do you want homes that match with the current zoning that you have?” Councilmember Chad Nichols said. “That’s really what I am thinking. I think this is a much better option than going down the road of research park. To me, it makes sense.”
Mayor Kim Rolfe he thought new homes would be a better buffer for the current residents than open space.
“Yes it would buffer the current residents, but what about those future residents?” Rice responded. “My biggest concern is that rail line on any given day; we don’t know what is going through there. That said, I desperately want to see us get a new public works building, but that’s not where I want to see us developing.”
Councilmember Chris McConnehey said he thought Rice’s point was valid and said that he’d like to see a heightened trail buffering residential areas from the railway. McConnehey added that the public works building and the parcel in question were two separate issues, and he said he’d like to see the council move forward with the building regardless of the outcome of the surplus property rezone.
As a pilot himself, Nichols argued that the helicopters wouldn’t present a threat to current or future residents and that people who were bothered by the noise would choose to move elsewhere. With Rolf, McConnehey and City Manager Mark Palesh being pilots, Nichols said they were a qualified group to make this kind of decision.
“The airplanes are there. They always have been there. They will be there,” Nichols said. “You buy the house, and you see them above when you are buying the house; to me, that is a non-issue. Frankly, I am proud that the army National Guard is there, and I love to see them, and I don’t care what time of night they fly by.”
Residents would be required to sign documents stating they realize they are in an airport overlay zone prior to purchasing a house in the vicinity, Rolfe said.
Rolfe made a motion to approve the rezone and land-use amendment with the condition that a heightened trial be built as a buffer, and the motion passed. The lot requirement for potential developers is 8,000 square feet with a size ”E” home. λ