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The City Journals

Olympia Hills redux? 
Uncertainty abounds for proposed ‘tech town’ development

Mar 26, 2019 12:34PM ● By Jennifer J Johnson

A “live-work-play-shop” modern community is developer Doug Young’s vision for Olympia Hills II, a 30 or 40-year development seeking to come to Southwest Quadrant. Open space is depicted in green; the “town center” in red; the Utah State University Extension campus in an appropriate blue; and neighborhood housing in yellow and orange. (Image Credit: Love Communications, for developer Doug Young)

By Jennifer J. Johnson | [email protected]

It is a vision with antonyms aplenty.

The developer’s “dream” is residents’ “nightmare.”

“High density” becomes high drama.

Even the developer’s public relations firm—Love Communications—produces glitzy images that some loudly proclaim propaganda. 

‘Big upside’ and ‘a definite sense of place’
On March 13–14, residents of Herriman and South Jordan, respectively, had the opportunity to preview developer Doug Young’s vision for Olympia Hills II. 

Input from the meetings will be collected, considered and presented to Salt Lake County officials for next-step consideration in the developer’s request for zoning changes to accommodate the project.

As Young sees it, Olympia Hills II would be a “live-work-play-shop modern community,” anchored by a huge high-tech employer offering high-paying STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers. Instead of the original proposed density of nine units per acre, the Olympia Hills II number has slightly modified to 6.8.

 The development would be buoyed by an unprecedented network of regional parks and trails, as well as a children’s hospital and a Utah State Extension campus, all of which would reimagine around 900 acres of unincorporated Salt Lake County, running along the Bacchus Highway, or State Route 111.

“The concepts, on the surface, are worth exploring. They have a potential upside,” observed Wasatch Front Regional Council (WFRC) Deputy Director and President of the Utah Chapter of the American Planning Association Ted Knowlton. 

According to Knowlton, plans to integrate amenities through the area such as a network of parks and open spaces “create something more valued than just standard community parks.” Such planned connectivity and synergy, he said, “tends to provide great value to a city over decades and decades.”

The sequel whose parent never made it beyond the editing floor

Olympia Hills II is a chiseled version of this past summer’s highly contested, high-density Olympia Hills development plan for land located approximately from 6300–8500 West and 12400–13100 South. 

The original proposal was broadly booed by Herriman residents who assembled a petition with more than 16,000 signatures in opposition. In an action serving as the catalyst for the newly emerging Southwest Quadrant Mayors Council, mayors of Copperton Township, Herriman, Riverton and West Jordan banded together to dissuade the imposition of what they see as an infrastructure nightmare. 

The tag-team pressure led then-Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams to veto the Salt Lake County Council’s near-unanimous, 7-1 support of the project, which would have sought approval to alter land use from an A-2 Agricultural Zone to a P-C or Planned Community Zone.

After going back to the drawing board to reimagine Olympia Hills, the developer is now, per the request of Salt Lake County, hosting public open houses for comment, prior to making a formal application for a rebooted project.

It is a project forecast with what the developer calls “patient money,” meaning that there is time to await approvals and funding to wait out the securing of anchor tenants. 

‘A 30- to 40-year process’

Olympia Hills II is a re-spliced project looking to gain traction necessary to begin what developer Young says is ultimately a 30- to 40-year process. 

The developer would look to transform the unincorporated area to a bustling, mixed-use, high-tech community, a modern-day corporate town beholden to a tech behemoth such as Amazon, Facebook or Google. Young traced Utah’s history with mining towns as evidence of communities historically growing around work. The demise of “big-box” retail and other disruptive changes in business, he observed, will reinvent the way communities operate.

To visually depict today’s high-tech town concept, the developer even included pictures of Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook’s “Willow Campus” corporate town. There is no affiliation of any sort with Zuckerberg or Facebook. The project’s far-west location and lack of breezy transportation with I-15 make it a seeming non sequitur with its goal of building synergy with Lehi’s Silicon Slopes high-tech community.

However, the I-15 quotient is not the only consideration. “A lot of people confuse the idea that I-15 is the center of the valley, but it’s not,” Knowlton said. “It separates one third from the other two-thirds.”

“If the Southwest Quadrant communities really wanted to,” he adds, pausing for a moment, “they could create a strong employment spine. They have to allow for it, through planning and zoning, and encourage it, through regional community development.”

From concerns to conspiracies

City Journals reporters attended both open houses March 13–14 at Herriman’s Bastian Elementary and South Jordan’s Golden Fields Elementary—listening to and interviewing multiple residents of both Herriman and South Jordan. At press time, a tally of citizen comments was unavailable – in terms of either content or quantity.

Residents’ verbal concerns ranged from insisting the developer secure “guarantees” of anchor technology tenants, to the burden Olympia Hills II would have on transportation, water and other resources. Mainly, residents expressed skepticism if it was really feasible for a community, even a “corporate town” to behave like “an island” where residents would look to stay in place, versus commuting elsewhere, for recreation, jobs base and other needs

Critiques of Olympia Hills II’s creating a “commuter community” sting in the present sense, being a spot-on critique of existing community Herriman. The city has had the dubious distinction of having the state’s lowest jobs-to-housing ratio, rendering it a sprawling bedroom community without economic development to support it, requiring commuters to drive elsewhere to work opportunities.

In some cases, resident concerns morphed to conspiracies, with elected officials and others charging the developer with purposefully staging the open houses without proper public notification. 

Numerous residents used the term “propaganda” to refer to visuals depicting aspects of Olympia Hills II. 

Misinformed residents critiqued the developer for poor development projects in Herriman, which he legitimately had no part of.

Some residents came to the sessions anticipating a “town hall” format and felt ill-at-ease navigating a room full of posters on easels, visually depicting everything from storm-drain management to traffic patterns.

Multiple residents asked developer Young for “guarantees” — as to which tech company would become the anchor tenant, which children’s hospital would co-anchor, what types of housing products would dominate the acreage and what the density distribution would look like.

“I tell my children that wanting something is not a plan,” remarked Herriman City Councilman and Mayor Pro Tempore Jared Henderson, who also included the concept in a lengthy Facebook post which was widely distributed to residents across the Southwest Valley.

“Guarantees” are never givens in planning such a visionary community, according to Knowlton.

“It happens often that a community is hopeful to land a certain path of employment, and it doesn’t materialize,” he said. “What can be done in a vision is to analyze market demands and think about how different patterns of development, infrastructure or different packages of amenities can increase the likelihood [of their realizing the opportunities.] Communities can influence these outcomes, but cannot control them.”

“We’re not opposed to growth, but we want it done responsibly,” said Herriman Resident Lisa Brown, who is part of the resident coalition who assembled the 16,000-signature opposition to the initial Olympia Hills project.

“I’m really sad,” said Kristie Miller, a Herriman resident who attended the meeting in South Jordan. “A case of less information, more propaganda. It is disappointing to not see any impact reports or resources that are backing up claims. 

“We feel like we had handled this already.”