By Brice Wallace
Growth — and all of the issues associated with it — is exploding in the southwest Salt Lake Valley, but government, private-sector and economic development officials are hoping it happens in a smart way.
Participants on three panels during the recent Western Expansion Economic Development Summit emphasized that all stakeholders need to work together on planning, seeing development occur and addressing problems, in part by understanding that a regional approach must trump the needs and desires of individual communities.
Alan Rindlisbacher, director of community strategy for the Economic Development Corporation of Utah, said collaboration, cooperation and communication are needed for communities involved in growth and development. “And if we all work together along those lines, we’ll continue to see some strong development and growth that is good for all of us,” he said.
Thomas Wadsworth, business development and corporate incentives manager at the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, said companies considering locating operations in Utah don’t care about municipalities when making their decisions.
“To companies, municipal lines are literally just lines on a map to them,” he said. To them, “it’s the Greater Salt Lake City area, and I think we need to start thinking in that type of mindset, especially along the western side of the valley.”
Neighboring municipality borders may have conflicting growth goals, but those are “extremely detrimental” to smart growth, he said.
“When we start thinking of each other as this is all one big area, and we’re all going to benefit from growth that may not happen right next to us or may happen right next to us, I think that’s when we can start putting our heads together and say, ‘What’s the best way to grow?’ I think what becomes really dangerous is when we start thinking about our little subdivision, our own city, our own three or four cities. We need to think holistically about the county, our neighboring county and the Wasatch Front.”
Rulon Dutson, director of community and external relations for Daybreak Communities, called for discipline enough to “wait for the things that we want to have happen in our communities.”
“Sometimes that’s hard because we are competing, community to community … All of the cities, the boundaries touch, obviously, and that growth will [have] impact — what I do on my side of the line will impact what happens on your side of the line,” he said. “And if we ignore that reality, then we’re going to miss out on other opportunities, because when people from the outside come in, they don’t see those lines and to them it makes us appear to be slightly dysfunctional and uncooperative with each other, and that’s exactly the picture that we do not want to convey.”
Skyler Peterson, senior vice president in Newmark Grubb ACRES’ industrial division, said collaboration and communication are important, as are having master plans at the city level, which can alleviate squabbles among neighborhoods, developers and government entities.
All parties have to communicate with each other in order to eliminate “land grabs,” he said. “the discussion we’re talking about today is, we do have this open land out west. There are a lot of different opinions of what should go out there [and] that all parties have to come together because it all supports each other. I get that there are these different city levels to each component, but we all tie together here as a community.”
Dutson said the southwestern communities have a unique opportunity because they can see how the east side has developed. “Good or bad, right or wrong, like it or not, it’s irrelevant. There are lessons that can be learned from how that developed and how I-15 functions or doesn’t and how Bangerter now functions or doesn’t,” he said.
“And now we have this wonderful opportunity with Mountain View Corridor to take advantage of it, utilizing the lessons that have been learned and taking all of the experience and expertise in this room and making sure that is a real promotor for what the west side would like to do, because that’s where the majority of the population growth will occur.”
Wadsworth said the Point of the Mountain Development Commission is a prime example of how collaboration can work. The commission worked with cities, residents and a variety of other stakeholders to develop scenarios and address issues related to the development at the current site of the Utah State Prison and surrounding property “to come up with a scenario that made sense for everybody.”
“If we can think regionally like that and play out all the scenarios and let data and facts drive decisions rather than politics and rhetoric, I think that’s how we start to make really informed decisions about what our lives are going to look like,” Wadsworth said.
Already, mayors of southwestern municipalities are meeting monthly to discuss issues and are working on a visioning study for the area.
“Cities are always going to be in competition with each other for different things, but there are also things that we can work together on … and we have done that,” said West Jordan Mayor Jim Riding. “From that standpoint, it’s been a good thing to work together as a southwest community. As we mentioned, the growth is happening here in this part of the valley.”
“We face a lot of the same challenges and have a lot of the same demographics,” Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs said of the municipalities. “We need to think regionally but act locally. … We recognize that with a county like Salt Lake, where the cities are basically wall-to-wall, we can’t just think within our border.”
Wadsworth said the “smart” portion of smart growth includes a recognition that things in the area have changed and will continue to change.
“But I think the smart portion of that is, how do we make sure that we grow in a way that maintains the things we like about Utah?” he said. “When we talk to companies, we always say we don’t want to become Austin or Seattle or San Francisco or any of those locations because we would lose our competitive advantage. Because at the core of economic development for the state of Utah, as we’re talking with companies, it really is the quality of life that we experience here.”
If issues such as high housing prices emerge from all the changes, “then we’re no different than anybody else,” he said, “and that’s going to hurt us in the long run.”