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SANDY — The Sandy City Council put UTA on notice Tuesday night: Keep your promises or you won't be doing business in our city.
A surprising vote by the City Council disrupted the Utah Transit Authority's plans to build a park-and-ride lot to serve the future light-rail station at 11400 South and 400 East. A majority of council members sided with residents who have been working for 2½ years to stop the parking lot from being built in their neighborhood.
But the victory could be short lived. UTA likely will take the matter to court and ask a judge to allow a park-and-ride at the location — possibly without the previously agreed upon landscaping and other conditions meant to address neighbors' concerns about the likelihood for increased traffic and crime.
The fact that a little neighborhood went up against big UTA, it's David and Goliath.
Either way, city leaders made it clear they haven't been happy with UTA in the past, and they don't plan to do the transit authority any favors in the future.
"They haven't always been responsive to our needs," Councilman Scott Cowdell said Tuesday. "And they haven't always been responsive to (requirements in) past conditional-use permits."
Cowdell cited landscaping commitments UTA has failed to keep at previous TRAX stations in the city, as well as along the rail line. Because the TRAX line runs through residential areas of Sandy, UTA promised to landscape the entire line, he said.
"The conditional-use (permit) says landscaping should be along the whole corridor," Cowdell said during the City Council's May 3 meeting, "and it's not."
Councilman Stephen Smith also pointed to changes to landscaping made at the 9000 South TRAX stop that "ignored" city ordinances. UTA officials also promised to put security cameras at the station's park and ride, he said, and that has not yet been done.
"The truth is we can suggest, we can hope and we can do a lot of things," Smith said, "but once those improvements are constructed and done … we have zero ability to enforce any other conditions."
After voting to overturn the Planning Commission's approval of a conditional-use permit for the park-and-ride lot, Smith made it clear he believed it was time for Sandy to stand up to UTA.
"UTA is what's known as 'too big,'" he said. "There is no way Sandy city would ever do anything to challenge a conditional-use permit for UTA. It would never happen. So getting them to comply with things we want them to do (after the park-and-ride lot is built) would be a Don Quixote situation."
Cowdell also indicated that this fight is bigger than a parking lot, saying he believes it's an issue of a state agency trying to dictate city ordinances.
We bent over backwards to work with the (Planning Commission), to work with (city) staff, to work with the neighborhood, the schools and everyone who's a stakeholder in this.
–Gerry Carpenter, UTA
"We've been told all along in this process that our city ordinances and codes couldn't supersede the state," he said. "I think this is a good opportunity to see if they can. … I believe the state needs to keep out of our business."
UTA spokesman Gerry Carpenter said the Sandy City Council's action is unprecedented but not insurmountable.
"This is a hiccup," Carpenter said. "We believe we'll be able to continue to move forward on this project."
UTA officials say their proposal met all the requirements of the conditional-use permit — and then some. But the discussion Tuesday and in previous City Council meetings have encompassed more than the park and ride.
"We really hoped this park and ride could have been judged on its own merits and not broader concerns," Carpenter said.
The City Council's allegations that UTA has not met requirements set forth in previous conditional-use permits are being looked into, he said.
"There is some history there and some concerns," Carpenter said. "Our goal is to be good neighbors, to both the residents and the communities we serve."
UTA has 65 miles of rail and 35 stations and "occasionally things may slip through the cracks," he said. "As soon as these things are brought to our attention, our intent is and always has been to be fully compliant."
Despite Tuesday's setback, UTA has no intention of scrapping plans for a TRAX station at 11400 South.
"Exactly what it looks like at the end of the day remains to be determined," Carpenter said.