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The City Journals

City Council approves developer agreement for 55-Plus Leisure Villas community

May 02, 2019 03:19PM ● By Jennifer J Johnson

“Houses don’t drive cars, people do” was Leisure Villas Vice President Dave Erickson’s comment about a senior community being a low-impact traffic contributor to an area beset with traffic woes.

By Jennifer J. Johnson | [email protected]

The Leisure Villas development is moving ahead toward its next milestone, but the path has been – and, likely, will yet be - anything but leisurely.

South Jordan Leisure Villas is a proposal for a 168-unit, age 55-plus project with a density of 4.2 units per acre on a 40-acre parcel adjacent to Salt Lake Community College, at approximately 3400 West and 9500 South.

A zoning application for the master-planned, 55-plus community cleared the SoJo Planning Commission in a close 3-2 vote Tuesday, March 26.

The following Tuesday, April 2, the City Council approved the project with a 4-1 margin. In specific, the council approved a resolution for a development agreement with Leisure Villas, including a floating-zone ordinance, and a zoning change for the land parcel from public to rezoned-residential. (Technical-speak is the zone has been changed from “A-5” agricultural and “R-1.8 residential-1.8 units/acre” to “R-M-5” residential-5 units/acre.)

The “floating-zone” designation specifies land conditions before zoning can be approved. The zone, therefore, “floats” until the final application is approved, and only then is the zoning added to an official zoning map. City Attorney Ryan Loose attempted to clarify this for residents concerned about what they considered a hasty process. “We can’t even get a plat agreement until we have an agreement with the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) that is acceptable to you,” he explained, then promised “We will make sure it is done right.”

Approval from the Planning Commission and City Council advances the project to its next hurdles.

The proposal has been met with strong resident discord and charges the area is already beset with inadequate, dangerous transportation planning for the existing land use, the proposed infill ignores the natural assets and green space of the area, and project plans are moving too swiftly.

Residents have challenged everything from the findings of traffic-impact studies by third-party consultants to planning suggestions from city transportation and planning engineers. This level of distrust is echoed in the 2019 South Jordan Citizen Survey from Y2 Analytics, which finds resident opinion of the city’s “Planning, Zoning, and Building Services” is the lowest-rated discipline of 18 services, garnering just 61 percent approval, versus the high of 86 for the top-rated services.

One of the more intriguing challenges to the Leisure Villas development included raising the issue of air quality as an issue of regional development for the newly-forming Southwest Quadrant Mayors Council.

Rogue development: A SLCC story?

SLCC has owned the 40-acre parcel and left it undeveloped for decades. A master plan from the college, dating back to 1996, indicates plans for a green-space park for the area, a point which the developer’s own representative, Dan McCay, seemed to legitimize. “SLCC said the park was a compensation for the amount of traffic they were proposing.” SLCC now indicates it will not amend its master plan until the parcel is sold.

Some members of the city council expressed fear that SLCC could go rogue with the 40-acre parcel, potentially adding one or more buildings to the space, or undertaking some other action non-conducive to already traffic-burdened neighborhoods bordering the currently vacant land parcel. Again, Leisure Village’s McCay seemed to speak against this as a theory, citing Ramsey’s significant “political capital” with power brokers at the state level and indicating SLCC’s proven strategy of developing satellite campuses throughout the valley as a strategy of better serving/reaching communities, versus over-building grander bricks-and-mortar headquarter campuses.

“Frankly, it scares me to death what could happen with that particular piece of property,” said Brad Marlor, councilman for District 2.

Marlor is the council representative for the neighborhoods being impacted by the potential development. “A residential development is much better than having the community college put a bunch of dorms or buildings there…“I am not sure where the college would go.”

Loose gave credence to Marlor’s point of view, indicating that, as a state entity, SLCC’s development interests would trump those of a municipality like South Jordan. Once again, Leisure Villas McCay seemed to downplay this as a possibility, indicating the city has extreme good will on a statewide basis and the college would seek to be a good partner. As a commuter campus and a community college, as opposed to a university, SLCC itself has no student housing.

District 3 Councilman Don Shelton advanced the logic most heard throughout the night in support of Leisure Villas. Shelton noted, “This project will be the lowest impact on the community…I feel like I have to support it.”

Shelton’s comments were followed by District 1 Councilman Patrick Harris stating, “If we reject this, we’re going to be cut out of this,” referring to the city’s ability to work with SLCC, West Jordan City, and other constituents in terms of an updated SLCC master plan, which would decidedly impact the area.

‘The best worst thing’

During the councilmen’s comments, about half of the residents started filing out of the chamber, with chatter heard during multiple council members’ speeches.

An unidentified member of the developer’s own team made reference to “We’re the best worst thing” for a parcel where “something’s going to happen with this property.”

The sole dissenting City Council vote came from District 5 Councilman Jason McGuire. 

McGuire has been disparaging of the development in previous meetings, citing what he considers an inappropriate, high-density feel of the developers’ other 55-plus communities in neighboring Southwest Quadrant cities Herriman and West Jordan. Dave Erickson, vice president for Leisure Villas, critiqued McGuire’s as “rich,” given McGuire’s living in and representing the interests of his high-density Daybreak-dwelling and Daybreak-developing constituents.

“While I think they do offer a quality product,” McGuire said prior to the vote. “The density does not match the existing neighborhood. This is an infill project. It should be developed in harmony with existing development.” McGuire cited the tradeoffs in terms of quality of life and traffic impacts in exchange for a dubious payoff—“We’re getting a decorated detention pond.”

“I just don’t feel like we are getting any value in a tradeoff for the higher density.”

Development agreement offers ‘greater degree of predictability’

Approval from the council gives the project developers the right to pursue rezoning the land through use of a “development agreement,” which Planning Director Steven Schaefermeyer said, while “being a process a little different from a standard rezone,” is a difference which is positive for the community, in garnering “a greater degree of predictability” for the outcome of the project.

City officials indicated approving the development agreement and having input into a controlled purchasing of the land from SLCC would, ultimately, provide SoJo with more control over many resident concerns, including traffic. The development agreement already comprises developer concessions, based on the input of residents. “They [developer Leisure Villas] have, I believe, made an effort to reach out,” observed Schaefermeyer.

An example of resident input translating to developer commitments included the need for a protected median or “a High-T Intersection” at 9800 South. The High-T is a three-way road intersection, usually used on high-traffic roads and dual carriageways. It comprises a raised median and a physical barrier for traffic and offers “a little more safety,” indicated Schaefermeyer.

Schaefermeyer’s staff recommended the city approve the development agreement, but underscored the project is far from being out of the woods, and the process, going forward, would include even more community input.

“As a City Council we have asked many questions, received studies and data from independent experts, then had those findings reviewed by our own experts at the City, to try to understand what the best conclusion would be,” said Ramsey in a prepared statement. “We have exhausted our options and determined that out of every realistic scenario we have available to us, this 55+ development is the least impactful on residents, traffic, safety, and schools. We understand that many residents in the immediate area are frustrated with the sudden change and want to see the field owned by SLCC remain a field, but they have decided to sell the land for development.”

“I don’t think any of you have been out to that lovely field [and] horse property... many people have bees and chickens,” said resident Natalie Christianson. “We’re paving paradise and putting up an $84 million shed. One-third of South Jordan is owned by Kennecott. We don’t need another senior community. We need a park, a field, another green space where we don’t have people, people, people… cars, cars, cars.”

“I do not understand the railroad of energy to build this now,” observed resident Tom Partridge.