The Salt Lake Tribune reported this week that citizens in the city of Sandy (pop. 89,000) “mobbed” a Planning Commission hearing to protest a proposed big box retail development on 100 acres of land known simply as “the gravel pit.” The Tribune said the crowd was “energized by the ‘Sprawl-Buster’, an anti-Wal-Mart activist who rallied the populace in a speech the night before.” A local developer, the Boyer Company, has proposed a zoning amendment that would gut the existing “ski connect” zone, and replace it with a big box retail district. Included in the plan is a 200,000 s.f. Wal-Mart supercenter, and a 135,000 s.f. Lowe’s home improvement store, along with several smaller retail uses, and some housing. Area residents and merchants feel betrayed by this plan, since the city negotiated a Master Plan for this parcel back in 1988 that called for a major portion of the site to be used as a community park. The Boyer plan would trash the park idea, and instead take currently prohibited uses, like big box stores, and make them permitted. Under pressure from angry residents, the Planning Commission has agreed to conduct more research on the project, including an economic impact plan. The community already has some empty mall space, and just about every big box logo you can think of, including a Lowe’s and a 123,000 s.f. Wal-Mart that the company has offered for sale since 2002. One resident at this week’s hearing told the Commissioners “This is ludicrous to me, and speaks of market greed and the almighty buck.” In the city’s General Plan, the gravel pit, also known as Parcel E, is clearly designated for procurement as a park. Community development staff, in reviewing the plan, told Commissioners that the project’s stormwater detention pond could be used as a park, but residents dismissed that plan as all wet. When the guidelines for the so-called SD(X) ski connect zone were created, the City Council promised existing merchants that a large mall would not be in the mix. “Existing business rights will be protected by zoning law,” one Council member promised. The ski connect roadway, which is just a short distance of less than two miles, winds around some upscale homes, and the Master Plan for the area noted that “because of the existing residential neighborhoods, any future development should not detract from the integrity of these neighborhoods.” The purpose of the SD(X) zone is to “encourage integration of uses and appropriate transitions to abutting zones.” What the developer has submitted is an amendment that radically alters the zone and its historic intent. The Boyer company described its huge plan as a “walkable retail environment.” Sandy residents hope it is the Boyer company that will take a walk on the project.
After three hours of public comment, almost all of it negative, the Commissioners adjourned the meeting. According to the Tribune, “tempers flared briefly when Commission Chairman Max Burdick chastised anti-big box activist Al Norman, for not attending. ‘We are here and Al Norman is not,’ Burdick said, drawing hisses and boos.” The fact is, I was in Sandy the night before at a lengthy public forum sponsored by Save Our Community, to which all the Commissioners and the Mayor were invited. None showed, but I was there, they were not. For local contacts in Sandy, email [email protected]