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SANDY —There’s a common thread among the cities at the southern part of Salt Lake County.
People used to joke that you had to pack a lunch when you traveled to Herriman because it was sort of an all-day trip, Herriman City Councilor Nicole Martin said. Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs recalled classes at Bingham High School in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s where classmates came from multiples cities throughout the county.
That was then. Since that time, the population of the region exploded not just for one city, but all of them. Representatives from Bluffdale, Draper, Herriman and Riverton gathered during a town hall meeting at Salt Lake Board of Realtors in Sandy Tuesday to discuss how to deal with exponential population growth throughout the region.
Draper may soon have high-rises; Herriman’s population is expected to nearly double over the next dozen years; Riverton is set to break ground on a massive commercial project by the end of this year; and Bluffdale officials expect new ways to be the connecting city between Salt Lake and Utah counties, as well as the east and west portions of Salt Lake County.
Officials from Sandy weren’t there, but ironically, the meeting was held just one block away from a construction site in the city that continues to grow.
“Natural buffers have just whittled down to practically nothing. We have development that is occurring literally on everyone’s doorstep,” Staggs said.
The upcoming relocation of the Utah State Prison in Draper was at the center of the discussion surrounding the future of these communities. Currently, inmates are expected to be moved from the Utah State Prison site in Draper to the new prison site in Salt Lake City’s northwest quadrant by 2021 or early 2022, according to Draper Mayor Trent Walker. The timetable of what happens after the relocation is still a bit fuzzy.
“That’ll be the big moment in time (when) the last bus leaves there,” Walker said. “I think my commission’s a little behind the eight ball. We’ve got a lot of work to do between now and then.”
The plans for a future past the prison move are a little clearer.
The state currently owns the land and a state commission was appointed to come up with a plan for the land. One of those ideas includes 8.775 million square feet of office space, 6.64 million square feet of mixed-use space, 1.375 million square feet of institutional/research and development space, 1.150 million square feet of commercial space, 4,200 high density residential units, 880 medium density residential units, and 105 acres of open space.
“People always ask me, ‘Will it have houses?’ I’m sure it will. What will they look like? I don’t know,” Walker said. “They’re not going to be half-acre houses or quarter-acre houses, and they’re probably not going to be one-acre houses, but they’ll be there.”
For that all to work, transportation will have to transition from cars to mass transit, he added.
“I think the car will have to take second place in this development. I actually think, moving forward, we’re going to have to take the position that if you want to live here, work here (or) play here, that your car is not going to be a big part of that.”
After the current projects on the table are finished, could Bluffdale be the last frontier for Salt Lake County growth?
That’s a possibility, Bluffdale economic development director Grant Crowell said. That’s due to the gravel pits operated there and its eastern neighbor, Draper.
“The gravel pits in Bluffdale and Draper might be some of the last real estate in the county,” he said.
Availability of that real estate could be several years away. Walker said he was informed the Geneva Rock location still has at least 30 years left until crews run out of material to dig for.
Even if that growth is decades away, Bluffdale has experienced growth at the same time as every other city in the Point of the Mountain region. Despite a reputation of 1-acre home lots, a lot of growth has been a mix of single-family residential and multifamily residential, plus commercial, Crowell said.
The city is looking to better accommodate residential commercial and transportation growth in the coming years, he added.
That includes the possibility of adding its first grocery store sometime in the future.
“We’re looking for those things, trying to help our community with services so we don’t always have to shop in Riverton or Draper,” Crowell said. “We’re planning for housing expansion and we’re a part of the southwest growth study … we’re just trying to keep a handle on it.”
Herriman has become the face of Salt Lake County growth and the battleground for future projects. It had a population of about 1,500 at the time it incorporated in 1999. Now it’s believed to be home to more than 40,000 residents. The city is expected to reach 95,000 residents by 2030, and possibly max out at 115,000 residents after that, according to city projections.
Residents have pushed back on density growth in recent years. Other cities in the county have seen similar blowback, Martin said. She added she believes this issue has become polarized enough that any elected official with a pro-development agenda will struggle to win re-election in future elections.
Despite that struggle, the city continues to grow — growth that includes 200 subsidized units and 6,654 multifamily housing units to help with affordable housing.
“If you have not been out to Herriman recently, go out and you will be shocked by the sheer growth that you see out there,” Martin said. “It’s just building constantly.”
There are more housing projects planned for the future, especially as the state pushes for cities to plan for more growth. There’s also a proposed transit extension that would connect Herriman’s core places with South Jordan, Riverton and Draper to help deal with predicted traffic congestion, Martin said. In addition, the city is eying commercial growth now to increase sales tax revenues.
Herriman officials also spent money on more land to allow residents access to recreation in the southern foothills, Martin said.
Like its neighbors, Riverton also expects growth — although its buildout projection is much lower than Herriman’s. Skaggs expected his city to cap at nearly 60,000 residents, which is about 12,000 more than where it is currently. Of all the cities that presented Tuesday, its next big project is the closest to fruition.
The groundbreaking of the Mountain View Village: Phase II development plan is slated for the fall of 2019. The area will add a larger commercial district to the mostly residential city. The plan calls for retail, restaurants, office space, a hotel, and a luxury theater. The first phase included a Harmons grocery store, Staggs said.
“That (sales) tax dollar is so important to the city and provides that balance (between residents and commercial),” Staggs said. “That’s going to maybe account for some $3 billion for Riverton City that, again, gives us that balance to keep taxes and fees low for our residents and provide the convenience in a close proximity that so many asked for.”
The city waived business license fees to try to bring in more businesses to Riverton, he added, as well as hiring a consultant to look at a plan for the city to own an internet fiber infrastructure.
With thousands of more people expected to move to this section of the county in the coming decades, Staggs said he was looking forward to planning for the future.
“I’m happy to be working with my colleagues and these cities, and really try to plan for the southwest part of the county," he said. "It's really — what I believe — the last best chance to plan for growth in this area. If we wait too long, it's going to be too late."
Editor's note: A previous version incorrectly spelled protester Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs' last name as Skaggs.