Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams has a dilemma, and it encapsulates the Point of the Mountain’s coming density wars.
The County Council earlier this week approved a massive, city-size development in the southwest corner of the valley, and it would be unlike anything else around it. Mayors of nearby cities say it would put 33,000 residents — about two-thirds the population of Herriman — in 900 acres.
The approval for the Olympia Hills project came on recommendation of McAdams’ planning department, and McAdams had not publicly voiced any apprehension before the council voted.
Then his phones blew up. After the council voted 7-1, residents of surrounding communities put together phone and social media campaigns to bombard McAdams with demands to veto it.
Their concerns range from practical (is the infrastructure in place to handle it?) to emotional (will we lose our way of life?).
This would be a big change. Data showed that Olympia Hills would have 37 people per acre, more than four times what Herriman and Riverton have. Even mixed-use Daybreak is only 11 people per acre.
For McAdams, the timing is acute. He is locked in a tight election battle with Rep. Mia Love to represent that area in Congress. This battle has nothing to do with Congress, but it could still decide who wins.
So he pushed the pause button. He held up the project to gather more public input. Whether anything changes remains to be seen. Even if he were to veto this plan as too dense, it seems unlikely it will go away completely. Even half that density would be a game changer.
McAdams’ predicament is all of ours. The population in that area is predicted to double by 2050. Can the citizens who live there now prepare for the coming masses? If they dig in and refuse more density, will they be cursed to sprawl or, worse, no growth at all because our air quality and water supply can’t handle the sprawl?
Once again, it’s worth reminding that the consequences of growth are still better than the consequences of no growth or contraction, where economic opportunities and property values decline.
But it has to be smart growth, and that means higher densities clustered around transit corridors. There is evidence that young people even prefer a smaller, more affordable footprint. Quality of life is not measured in square feet.
Our politicians can only look ahead if their constituents do, and in this case, the people who are there now need the foresight to act on behalf of the ones still to come.