Balancing public sentiment with development
Jul 25, 2018 04:56PM
● By City Journals Staff
West Jordan has seen a great deal of new home construction in the past decade. (courtesy/pixabay.com)
By Erin Dixon| [email protected]
A property rezone was back on the table after its denial 18 months ago. The first time it was presented to the city council, it came with a lot of resident distaste as well as a negative recommendation from the planning commission.
In June 2018, the empty lot on 8157 South Mapleleaf Way was rezoned from very low residential that required a 20,000-square-foot minimum to medium residential that now only requires 10,000-square-foot minimum lots. The new zoning allows for approximately 80 new residences.
Resident Sherry Burton has lived on an adjacent street to the rezoned plot for 25 years.
“The planning committee staff report states that this rezone will not adversely affect adjacent properties and that no significant traffic impact is anticipated,” Burton said. “We challenge that. On page 11 of their study, they cite daily trips in that area will be 838. Now how can you reasonably say that’s not going to affect us if we have 800 now?”
Several residents that gave public comment in 2016 again attended city council to give the same statement: “We don’t think this rezone is a good idea for safety or preserving of our way of life.” This year, the planning commission was now in favor of the rezone, and the city council approved it in a vote 4-3.
Changes in the rezone proposal
From the first proposal in October 2016, the developer made one major change because of resident comment. Originally, the plan included a road that would lead from the new development lots to very low-density, farm-like plots. Current homeowners were concerned that because of this joining road, traffic would increase to an unsafe level. The low-density streets do not have sidewalks, and, according to residents, cars already drive through well over the speed limit.
This connecting road and bridge over the canal was removed from the June 2018 proposal, so the development will no longer connect to the low-density area but to the medium-density zones to the north and south of it.
Community Development Director Scott Langford further explained what happened in the 18 months since the initial proposal. The developer also conducted a traffic study after hearing the concerns of the adjacent neighborhoods.
“A traffic study is not normally part of a rezone application, but the developer knew that it was part of the issue, so they performed one as part of the application,” Langford said.
It was repeatedly stated the decision was simply a rezone, not confirming the number of homes nor a solution for the traffic problem in the area.
Future plans for the development
City Manager David Brickey addressed the concern about a road being built in the future, even though it was removed from the current proposal. Residents spoke of little trust of developers and that they would again add the joining road during construction.
“There’d have to be an easement from the canal company,” Brickey said. “The city has the authority to determine what streets are accessed by any right of way. So they could build the bridge, but if you [the city council] didn’t want it to connect a city street, it wouldn’t.”
Any policy, rezone or change made is based on a number of factors and can sometimes be difficult to make the smoothest choice for everyone involved.
“It’s a blend of science and art,” Langford said. “Sometimes it works, and sometimes it’s less than desirable.”
City Attorney Rob Wall said, “Sometimes there’s a disconnect between public understanding and actual activity.”
Council members disagreed over the new rezone
Though four council members approved this rezone, which constituted a majority, there were still three members who voted against. The disagreement came over the public’s distaste.
Councilmember Chad Lamb was one who voted against the rezone. His own home was in a similar situation years before, and he felt helpless to prevent a development he disagreed with.
“I struggle tonight because I was in the same situation where this will be a traffic issue,” he said. “I want to listen to the worry of the citizens. I want them to know that we are thinking of them when we make these decisions. It’s not just about the land owners; it’s about quality of life. I would love to see a compromise with the homebuilders.”
Councilmember Alan Anderson also voted against the rezone.
“Rezones are really hard to do,” he said. “I talked to a number of residents who were opposed to it. I voted no; it still passed. If you own property that you would like to develop, there are certain rights that you have to be able to sell to ‘highest and best use.’”
Part of a larger land grab in the valley
One of the larger issues with rezoning and development in the Salt Lake Valley is the increase of land value which works against some people’s desire to maintain a rural feel.
“There is rapid growth in the Salt Lake Valley,” Langford said. “We can’t make more land; we have what we have. There’s significant development pressure. We’re happy to see new people and businesses move into West Jordan, but we need to do it in a careful and planned way to maintain a quality of life.”
Councilmember Kayleen Whitelock, who voted in favor of the rezone, said increasing the number of homes in a single area is inevitable. Trying to delay the change may even bring a tighter fit in the future.
“I would love to have stay it rural residential, but with what’s around it I don’t see that happening,” she said. “What we know about land in the valley is we know it’s disappearing. My concern for this area is that if we don’t do the zoning change to medium R-1-10, we could end up with apartments in the future.”
Another piece to the puzzle is house prices. Building homes on large properties increases the home price which could potentially make them unaffordable for most people.
“The bigger macroeconomics issue is the inflation on house prices in Utah,” Anderson said. “House prices are going up 9 or 10 percent a year. So, how do you make houses affordable? You make them smaller or you put them on smaller lots.”
While there may be some dislike from some residents, there are other people who are looking for a different standard of living.
“A lot of West Jordan residents want to maintain quarter or half acre lots, and I think there are places for those, but the whole city can’t be that way,” Anderson said. “People like different styles of houses.”
Massive traffic issues
The traffic problem in the area is something that residents and councilmembers agreed on. There’s a recognition from the council but no current plan for improvements.
“It’s a traffic issue, not a zoning issue,” Whitelock said. “Perhaps there’s a way that we can help.”
“There’s likely going to be road-widening projects, but that costs money, but we have our list of projects,” Langford said. “There are no plans to currently widen 4000 West, but if city council decides that it’s a need, then they would do so.”
Several weeks after the rezone, Anderson has been actively seeking to improve 4000 West making requests of public works.
“I disagreed with the council that you treat land use and traffic separately because they go hand in hand in my mind,” he said. “However, now that it has passed, the recourse is … to know where 4000 West is on the timeline to maintain the quality of life these residents have come to expect.”