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The City Journals

Jordan Bluff expansion, traffic woes and transparency discussed in meeting

Apr 22, 2019 02:38PM ● By Erin Dixon

Jordan Bluffs development plan, now beginning construction. Completion is in 10 years from now. (Photo/Midvale City)

By Erin Dixon | [email protected]

Jordan Bluffs construction has begun.

The project began over 15 years ago with the recognition that there were acres of land that were unusable in their current state and a burden to the city to sit empty. Prior to planning, the site (known as project View 72) was contaminated from steel processing and slag dumping. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) labeled it a Superfund site in 1990 to 2004.

A Superfund is the informal name of a contaminated piece of land that is under the care and direction of the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA).

“From 1906 to 1971, a smelting and ore milling facilities at the site produced lead, copper, zinc and other metals. These activities contaminated air, soil, surface water and groundwater…. Cleanup actions conducted by the EPA and the state of Utah included removal of buildings and contaminated soil, waste consolidation and capping, riverbank stabilization and fencing installation,” Richard Mylott said, from the EPA press release.

Project View 72 became known in two parts as Bingham Junction and Jordan Bluffs. 

Chris Butte, economic development director, detailed the process that the project has undergone to get to the point of construction. “This project is a collaboration of effort that the city has had for over 15 years. Over 15 years ago ... we bought and built excess water capacity and upgraded our water lines to this site and to Bingham Junction.”

The capping is a protective covering placed over the contamination to prevent water from leaking through and contaminating the Jordan River. New sewer lines were built to accommodate growth. 

Building on a once-contaminated site is not a cause for concern. After clean up and protective measures, even hospitals can be built on former Superfund sites. The Intermountain Medical Center in Murray also sits on a former Superfund site. An EPA press release gives more details:

“The Murray Smelter Superfund site in Murray City, Utah, is a ... 142-acre former mineral-processing site … [it was] once the largest lead smelter in the country. Site testing found contaminated soil, surface water, groundwater and sediment. EPA and Murray City coordinated the site’s cleanup and redevelopment plans.”

Development ideas since 2004 have ranged from 2,400 residential units to an industrial complex. 

Now, the development includes apartments spread around a linear park, with a data center and business complex.

The project is a Transit Oriented Development (TOD), with the goal of pulling cars off the road and putting commuters on transportation via UTA. 

Butte explained that as a TOD, the goal with this development is “smart growth.”

“We have access to three TRAX stations, Jordan River Trail, we’re increasing infrastructure north and south with Bingham Junction Boulevard that connects to Sandy Parkway. And it has access to two freeway spots. Not to mention ... I-15 is being upgraded. Midvale City joined and invested in UTOPIA (a fiber optic internet service) [to accommodate new business and data center].”

“There are no sites along the Wasatch Front that has this access to regional transportation networks,” Butte said.

Government versus local opinion

Is local government responsive to residents’ concerns? Are residents aware of government doings?

In a contentious meeting in March, the council approved an additional 1,000 units for the Jordan Bluffs development. The vote was 3-2, with Councilmembers Bryant Brown and Dustin Gettel as the dissenting votes. 

Jordan Bluffs development was previously proposed to have 2,500 units. Council meetings in March were open for public comment to decide to add 1,000 additional units, bringing the total to 3,500. 

The interchange between council and residents during the March 19 city council meeting was heated and rebukes were fired from both sides. 

Longtime Midvale resident Kara Cole was concerned the additional units would make traffic too heavy a burden on neighborhood streets, where traffic already seems to be a problem. 

“My husband and I and our kids are lifetime citizens in Midvale. I sat in a Midvale council meeting 30 years ago where high-density housing was put on a moratorium,” Cole said. “

Here we are again with high density throughout our city that I don’t think our city and our roads can afford. You can widen the street on Main Street, but it’s still not going to be able to handle all those cars. So here we are with 7,000 cars coming out of that area.” 

Resident Natasha Hill is concerned that the old town environment for which she purchased her home is going to disappear. 

“We moved here almost two years ago ... we think it has a lot of charm. …[T]hose are the kind of people we want moving into Midvale ... people that want to stay that are not transient. And the only way we’re going to get that is if we focus on building single-family homes.

Benjamin Hill, husband of Natasha Hill, was also apprehensive about the actions of the council to add what seemed to be unneeded density.

“Previous meetings regarding the Jordan Bluffs development citizens have openly expressed their concerns regarding the increases in rental units,” he said. 

“Why, unless it’s absolutely necessary, would the council vote against the public's widely expressed concerns about the increase of high-density housing. If it is necessary, is the city being transparent as to why?”

Why single-family homes are not viable here

Community Development Director Brian Berndt explained that it is not possible to build single-family homes on this plot of land, even if the developer wanted to. The environmental issues with the land as well as the layout of the land dictates the type of structures that can be built. The shape of the land makes building single-family homes impossible. The buildings need to be large and put on helical piers to compensate for the capping on the contamination, as well as allow for building on uneven ground. 

“This was a contaminated site. [It’s been] 15 years since plan conception and as the EPA was looking at this ... removing the contaminates was cost prohibitive. They decided to put a membrane over it to cover it. [T]hey realized they will have to put on the buildings on piers. Which ... is bringing the membrane down into the hole so all that is all still self-contained so there is no leakage.”

Traffic concerns 

Kane Loader, city manager, explained that Bingham Junction and Jordan Bluffs will revitalize old Midvale, as well as alleviate current traffic problems. 

“This is our savior. The Bingham Junction Boulevard, once we get it fully opened from the Sandy Parkway down to 7800 South will take ...a good portion of that traffic off of Main Street and put it on a ... five-lane boulevard. That’s why we don’t have to widen Main Street or Wasatch,” Loader said. 

Councilmember Quinn Sperry agreed with Loader, that a large development near Main Street is vital.

“People want to have Main Street be viable and the only way that’s really going to be viable is if we’re going to have people in the area that are going to frequent it so you bring in and attract the businesses,” Sperry said. 

Kris Sydenham, a neighbor of the Hills expressed his worry that Main Street would need to be widened to accommodate the traffic, encroaching onto his property.

“My partner and I moved in two years ago and just absolutely love it. It’s old, it’s eclectic, it’s everything we’ve wanted. For the past two years we watched seemingly endless lines of traffic even outside of peak traffic hours flood Main Street. Expanding Main Street is the worst idea,” Sydenham said. 

Loader interjected to explain that residents need not be concerned about widening of Main Street. 

“Let me make it clear, there are no plans to expand Main Street or Wasatch, in any of our plans. I don’t know where that rumor is coming from, but it’s not true.”

Gettel sympathized with the public concerns about traffic.

“I know for a lot of people it’s a leap of faith to tell people that ‘just trust us, the traffic’s going to be just fine.’ [However], just because we have 3,500 [units], we can’t just multiply that number by two and that will be the number of cars, there’s more science involved.”

Mayor responds to transparency 

Mayor Robert Hale addressed the idea of Midvale government transparency, as well as the misinformation that some residents were presenting.

“Folks, we have meetings here regularly and have addressed these very issues over the last several months. We’ve discussed Bingham Junction and Jordan Bluffs over and over and over again. We advertise those meetings and many of the objections or the rumors that were brought up would have been answered in those meetings.

“We just need to have you come and participate more because that’s why we hold meetings that are open for your input, sustaining, objection, modifications, anything like that. We’re all ears, we’d love to have you come. We have a website, we broadcast this meeting here on Facebook…,” Hale said. 

“We are very transparent, you can see exactly what is going to happen, by the foot. We hide nothing. We hide nothing,” Hale said.