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The City Journals

City Journals Exclusive: ‘The Last Holdout’ (a.k.a. Olympia Hills) Nearing Clearing Procedural Approval to Resubmit High-Density Project

May 17, 2019 03:35PM ● By Jennifer J Johnson

By Jennifer J. Johnson | [email protected]

Forensic science often shares stories of people “speaking from the grave” and having impact on the future.

In the case of the high-density Olympia Hills development project proposed for the Southwest Quadrant? Former Salt Lake County (SLCO) Mayor Ben McAdams’s voice reportedly loomed large this week as a case of “Forensic Development” is ensuing, with some citing political motivation as a factor.

The County Council will consider a resolution on the fate of the proposal as part of its proceedings, Tuesday, May 21, where, according to County sources, it is anticipated they will advance the proposal and allow for the creation of a new development agreement for Olympia Hills.

County gears to re-engage

SLCO attorneys this week, have been, reportedly, in a conundrum about how to treat the veto McAdams made last June of the proposed 900-plus acre parcel project.

McAdams’s 11th-hour June 2018 veto of developer Doug Young’s application to enable the high-density Olympia Hills project came after Herriman residents and a group of Southwest Mayors rallied in protest to thwart a County Council which had given the project a 7-1 green-light vote.

Current SLCO Mayor Jenny Wilson was then a 10-year veteran of that council. Now mayor after McAdams left the seat for Washington, D.C., Wilson indicated, earlier this week in an interview with City Journals, that time was drawing near for the County Council to initiate a timeline to re-engage with the developer.

“The initiation is required by the Council,” she indicated. “They have a year.”

Wilson opined that the Council “will noodle by themselves,” but also indicated her belief the Council would elect to move forward and developer Doug Young would be asked to reapply and allowed to enter a modified proposal.

Whose court?

According to a source at SLCO, who wished to remain anonymous, attorneys have advised the County Council that having the mayor veto a development project has not occurred before.

Without precedent, reportedly, there is no legal mechanism for them to manage next-steps in the process, and “nobody knows whose court it is in,” said the source.

City Journals received, in advance of its public dissemination, an unsigned copy of a “Fact-Finding Resolution” by the SLCO Council, a machination that defines McAdams’ mayoral veto as an executive decision rejecting the ordinances the Council adopted and not the developer’s overall application. The resolution will be part of the SLCO Council’s official business on Tuesday, May 21, where the resolution will likely be voted on and passed.

In essence, the resolution, which the City Journals is told will be made public later today (Friday, May 17), allows the developer to re-apply.

For his part, Young,  the owner of the 931.8 acres under his “The Last Holdout, LLC,” is operating under a business-as-usual perspective, and was unaware, until contacted by City Journals of any Council procedural matters.

“We still have a full, valid application at the County. We have never lost that,” Young indicated. “It’s going to take quite a process to work through that. We’re in the initial phases.”

Young has assembled comments from the two recent SWQ open houses and is, he says, addressing residents’ concerns about density.

The project received a major thumbs-up mid-May when Clint Betts, the executive director of Silicon Slopes praised the development, citing it multiple times as an example of the type of project needed not only in Salt Lake County, but throughout the state. Betts, who serves on affordable-housing committees and is a long-time technology visionary, was the third speaker as part of the Council’s Regional Growth Summit 2.0. SLCO also heard from internal regional planning executives and visionaries of the Daybreak planned community—all potentially part of what Wilson deemed the SLCO Council’s “noodling.”

Noodling on Olympia Hills

In April through mid-May, Salt Lake County Regional Development leadership, as part of the “SLCO County Council’s Growth Summit 2.0.” held three, back-to-back-to-back weekly informational presentations. The sessions were conducted live, as part of County Council business and were also streamed over the internet, via Facebook live sessions.

Multiple calls over multiple weeks by the City Journals to District 2 Council member Michael Jensen, who chaired the Growth Summit, went unanswered.

While some of the Council members, as well as Wilson herself, sent policy advisors to South Jordan and to the even more contentious Herriman open houses for Olympia Hills in mid-April, the Council’s newest member, Shireen Ghorbani, was the only member at both open houses, staying for much or most of the public-input sessions on the project.

Wilson, Ghorbani, and Jensen, as well as Council members Max Burdick and Ann Granato are up for re-election in 2020, making political maneuvering on Olympia Hills a dicey matter, particularly for those with Southwest constituents. Those with SWQ constituents to consider for 2020 election for their current seats include the Mayor and Council members Ghorbani and Jensen.

As of now, Wilson is the only publicly-declared candidate for the 2020 SLCO Mayor race. “I am the Mayor, and not a candidate,” is her response to additional questions about 2020, beyond her clear intention to be SLCO Mayor for six years, versus two.

A legal matter? Or a political one?

Of the County Council’s machinations, “It’s not a legal matter, but a political matter,” quipped a local municipal law expert familiar with the project—and the political climate in the Valley.

Olympia Hills is certainly a political conundrum, with much of Southwest Valley still actively protesting the development, while the County as a whole, and cities on a municipal level, are bursting at the seams in terms of growth pressures and a stated need to accommodate for population growth. SLCO is projected to add nearly 600,000 residents by 2065.

In addition to what was a reported 16,000 signatures collected on a petition by residents, six mayors of the Southwest Quadrant (SWQ) continue to go viral with actions to thwart or, at least, severely constrain the project.

SWQ Mayors Council leaders of Copperton Township, Herriman, Riverton, and West Jordan initially allied in formal protest with a crisis-coordinated press release to sway then-Mayor McAdams. South Jordan later joined the SWQ Mayors Council.

The group meets weekly and did so throughout the Utah Legislative Session, and has successfully lobbied to receive $250,000 in grant dollars.

According to West Jordan Mayor Jim Riding, they are swiftly moving forward with plans to manage SWQ growth, formally issuing a request for a transportation study. Amid press speculation that given members of the group are its “leaders,” they are now considering pooling resources to manage what until now has been an officially, intentionally leaderless and democratic group seeking to best-manage their mutual destiny in strategic, synergistic areas. Riding’s comments to the City Journals came in conjunction with his attendance at the Kearns open house by Mayor Wilson.

During her five-site, cross-county town halls during April and May, Mayor Wilson indicated, multiple times, that her assumption is that Olympia Hills is moving forward.

“Ultimately, I don’t know how we move forward without more density and more planned communities,” she said. “We cannot move forward with wasting a single acre.”