SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake County Council gave the controversial Olympia Hills development a green light on Tuesday, the latest move in a yearslong saga filled with harsh backlash from county residents.
“It’s disappointing, but I think it was expected,” said Herriman City Councilman Steve Shields.
The County Council moved forward with the proposal in a 6-3 decision. They will cast their final vote on the development March 3, although Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton doesn’t expect the results to be any different.
“My vote won’t be changing,” said Winder Newton, who voted against the proposal. “It doesn’t sound like anybody’s really open to changing.”
The proposal would bring a 933-acre community to Herriman, with development plans boasting contemporary housing, neighborhood parks, commercial centers and a 100-acre Utah State University agricultural center.
But every step of the application process has been met with criticism from county residents, their main concerns being increased population density and traffic.
Wearing red shirts with “NO” printed in bold lettering, dozens of people showed up to Tuesday’s meeting to oppose the development, a number of whom voiced their concerns during the public comment period.
“Vote no,” said Herriman resident Teddy Hodges. “It’s not going to benefit us, it’s not going to benefit our way of life, it’s not going to benefit our traffic issues and problems we’re already facing right now.”
“I understand there’s going to be development,” said Lorin Smith, another Herriman resident. “What we do oppose is a lack of responsibility in development, and this is an example of that very thing.”
“Change happens,” said Councilman Jim Bradley, summing up the sentiments of other council members who voted in favor of Olympia Hills. “With population growth, particularly in this valley, we’re not immune to the challenges that that growth provides.”
Other council members shared stories of how their childhood neighborhoods transformed, driving home the idea that change is inevitable.
“Every time I visit my parents, I see potato field after potato field that I used to work in, turned into subdivisions,” said Councilman Arlyn Bradshaw. “But I have seven siblings who all had six kids each, and we’re responsible for a lot of those new homes.”
“The kinds of comments that you’ve shared with me resonate with my own childhood and wanting that freedom to run,” said Councilwoman Shireen Ghorbani. “The best tool that I have to create open space, to plan for infrastructure, to require the developer to be accountable to that infrastructure, is a master plan development.”
After the meeting, Shields told KSL the council members’ comments missed their mark.
“I think they were a little condescending to be honest,” he said. “I don’t think anybody articulated an opposition to development or an opposition to growth ... we talked about what the growth would look like.”
“We weren’t talking about trying to keep our old playground. We weren’t trying to keep our old fields,” Smith added after the meeting. “What we’re trying to do is maintain a quality of life that is going to be significantly detrimentally depleted because of this development.”
The council originally approved the Olympia Hills proposal in 2018. But after sustained backlash from his constituents, then-County Mayor Ben McAdams vetoed the application two weeks after the vote.
A year later, developers returned to the county with a revised application, scaling back the proposed development from 8,700 units on 933 acres, to 6,300.
“We’re not quite sure what anybody who would be opposing this project would actually support other than urban sprawl,” Bruce Baird, the developers’ legal counsel, told the Salt Lake County Council in January.
But the revisions did little to sway the opinion of Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs, who has been clear in his opposition to the development.
“We are not opposed to growth, we just want to see it done in a smart and very responsible way,” he told the County Council during a Jan. 28 meeting.
Staggs’ vision for smart and responsible growth adheres to a 2008 Salt Lake County development plan that recommended three to five housing units per acre in Herriman. Olympia Hills would have almost seven units per acre.
“They could say no today, they could get the results of the study and then they could base their future plans on that study,” said Smith, referring to the Shared Vision and Growth Strategy, a study currently being conducted to assess land use, economic development and transportation in the southwest corner of the county.
“They’ve already paid for it, why not use it?” Smith said.
Winder Newton echoed Smith’s concerns, telling KSL she would’ve preferred to vote after the study was released.
“When I hear that we need it for housing, I just shake my head and think no,” said Winder Newton. “What we need is to have a well-planned development that fits within the existing general plan that we have and can meet the needs of the people.”
Going forward, Shields expects to see a referendum on the development, although he expressed frustration that there was little recourse for Herriman.
“If there’s a referendum I think we would stand behind it,” he said. “As to what the city can do, I don’t know. We’re evaluating to see what options are available. I’m not sure there really is anything.”