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HERRIMAN — The massive, controversial development in southwest Salt Lake County known as Olympia Hills is back.
Only now it's being called just Olympia. And it has the blessing of a neighboring city that moved this week to absorb its property lines.
The Herriman City Council voted during a special meeting Wednesday to annex the 933-acre, 6,330-unit, Daybreak-like development on previously unincorporated Salt Lake County land — though not without protest from some council members who still have misgivings about so many houses, apartments and people coming to the far west side of their city, in an area that's currently open farmland.
"I'm just doing my job of representing the people in my area that say it's too dense," said Councilwoman Sherrie Ohrn of Herriman's far west District 3. "This is 70-30, basically, multifamily versus single-family housing on the very farthest southwest corner you can possibly go. And I just personally think it's irresponsible to do that."
The City Council approved the annexation, as well as a master development agreement that places guardrails on the project, on a split 3-2 vote. Its supporters saw the annexation as a way to have better control over the project well into the future and, more broadly, better control over the entire city of Herriman's destiny.
"I am confident that we've reached a place that, based on the circumstances we found ourselves in a year ago, that is a better opportunity and will help Herriman be a place that will continue to grow and continue to be one of the premiere communities in the West," Mayor David Watts said.
The mayor noted he initially lived "on the other side of town" when the debate over Olympia Hills first started. But now, "I live literally next door. My house is on all of the maps we've seen. ... I will be directly affected just like all of the residents that live next door. I own that."
Olympia Hills' backstory
It's been a long saga for the developer behind Olympia, Doug Young. He at one point won approval for an even denser version of the project from the Salt Lake County Council, with 8,800 units. Facing outrage from south valley residents, then-Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams vetoed the project, sending it back to the drawing board.
That day, Herriman Mayor David Watts stood with McAdams, calling it an "opportunity for us to start that process over again and make sure all parties are included." At the time, mayors from cities including Herriman, South Jordan and Riverton protested the development, saying they felt left out of the planning for a community that would become the densest the state had ever seen.
Doug Young and his business partner, Cory Shupe, later tried again with Salt Lake County. In January 2020, they rolled out a new proposal, one that was scaled down to 6,330 units on 933 acres. Despite continued community backlash, the Salt Lake County Council voted 6-3 to greenlight the project. Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson said she wouldn't veto it.
For years, Herriman eyed possibly annexing the land. In 2018, it approved $30,000 to fund a study of the property, located near 12600 South and 6800 West, to determine what kind of density would be appropriate.
So in 2021, Herriman city officials approached Young, wondering if he'd consider annexation into Herriman, even though the development had won county approval. That "exploratory conversation," as Councilman Clint Smith described it, turned out better than he'd expected.
"I'll be honest, having been one of those first people to extend that invitation, I did not think that it would be accepted or received well," he said, based on past community reaction to the project.
Smith, who is running against Lorin Palmer to be Herriman's next mayor, expressed appreciation for the "developer's professionalism" in accepting that invitation. And that began, he said, a "very robust," six-month process to come to terms with what a Herriman-based Olympia would look like.
Over a dozen meetings followed, including several City Council meetings in March, April and May to discuss the possible annexation. Young filed a notice of intent to annex on May 24 and a formal petition on June 15. In July, the City Council voted to accept the annexation petition, leading to several planning commission meetings in July and August. Certain City Council members worked in August and early September to finalize the language of the master development agreement, leading to a public hearing on Sept. 22.
The case for and against
Despite all those meetings, two members of the Herriman City Council still had strong reservations about proceeding. Even though the project would be more within Herriman's control than it would be under the county, Ohrn raised concerns that this version of the project no longer included affordable housing.
"We have no provision ... that mandates any kind of affordability," she said. "We have a lot of density but no affordable housing here to speak of. It's concerning to me."
Ohrn also said she's heard from other neighboring city leaders, "and all of them are shocked that we didn't negotiate down the density. Shocked." A state senator also told her, "You guys have way too much of that type of development in your community," she said.
But its supporters believe they've negotiated favorable terms with the developer, including:
- As part of the master development agreement, the developer will be "responsible for 100% of the infrastructure," Councilman Steve Shields said. That means "roads, park strips, trees, landscaping, sidewalks, trails, water pipes, stormwater management systems, etc. The city's only cost will be paying for upsizing water lines or other amenities inside the project."
- That's in lieu of what Herriman and other cities have done in the past: charging developers impact fees. "As we've identified over and over and over again, impact fees are rarely enough to pay for the cost of all of those infrastructure developments," Shields said.
- By annexing the land, the city will also reap the benefits of its future property taxes, which its supporters say will strengthen the city's tax base.
- The master development agreement also requires the developer to pay for numerous public parks and trails, including a 14-acre park in conjunction with the Hidden Oak subdivision directly south of Olympia with about 7 acres on each side, meant to be a permanent venue for local sports, Shields said.
- The development agreement also requires both city officials and the developer to meet after four years to review the project, economic conditions and ways to remedy any issues that arise, Shields said.
- Additionally, the city negotiated a 300,000-square-foot minimum requirement for commercial space within the project, as well as the holding of at least 10 acres of land for commercial uses for up to 25 years.
"I hear often about (how) the city of Herriman is the place when people come move out here," Watts said. "This is where they look. ... This development and this annexation will continue to do that, as well as keeping the city financially stable well into the future."
Justin Swain, a Herriman resident and member of the group Utah for Responsible Growth, which fought hard against the original version of the project approved by the county, said he has been a "huge fan" of annexation from the beginning. But the problem, he said, "is the fact that it was kind of being forced through the county."
"I think it should be Herriman working with the developer," Swain said, though he added, "it's going to get developed no matter what." What he cares about is "what it actually looks like in the end," he said, noting that much can change as the project progresses.
Councilman Jared Henderson, who also cast a "no" vote against the annexation, said he "vehemently disagrees" with an approach that he said focused on "a false premise of a financial windfall of the city" rather than focusing on "reducing the negative effects of the density." He said far too many of the city's meetings happened "behind closed doors."
"In my opinion, this is a huge step backwards, not just a mistake. It's a permanent mistake, one that will irreparably harm not only Herriman residents, but the residents of those cities that surround us," Henderson said.
Henderson noted that it was mentioned early on in the process that if Herriman residents "don't like what we do, that they can vote us out. I hope they remember that come election time."
Watts, who isn't running for reelection, didn't waver in his support. He said he looks forward to opening the first parks within Olympia's property lines.
"This is a project that will last 30 years, and I hope to still be here in 30 years, but my kids definitely will be," He said. "I hope time will judge me in a way that shows we did something right by our community, and that the 5,000 to 6,000 families that move into our community based on this project feel the same way."
With the green light from the City Council, the annexation will be final next year (so long as it's also approved by Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, as Utah law requires annexations be certified by the lieutenant governor).