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APARTMENT PROPOSAL STIRS FUSS IN SANDY

One man's apartment is another man's blight.

So goes the thinking in certain quarters below Little Cottonwood Canyon, where a developer wants to put as many as 370 apartments or condominiums on 23 acres.The proposal has shaken up residents, who worry that an apartment complex might spoil the affluent neighborhood. The developer, Magna Investment & Development Ltd., has offered little solace, remaining mum about which option it will take - apartments or condominiums.

But the issue has raised questions about the effect on real-estate values as well as sparking debate over property elitism vs. housing rights.

"We're trying to build a city here that's a little different from a lot of other places," said Sandy Mayor Larry Smith. Smith said he wants to keep apartments out of the neighborhood because of constituents' objections that the rental concept doesn't mesh with local values.

"The kind of lifestyle we have here would be negatively impacted," he said. The mayor said apartment houses generate five times as many police calls as single-family blocs of housing and that the fire department is also called by apartment-dwellers more often than homeowners.

Holley Barney, director of the city's planning commission, said she hasn't decided whether the development is appropriate but that blanket condemnation of apartment developments for any neighborhood can be dangerous.

"There are court cases that indicate cities need to provide for a full range of housing, and to do otherwise is exclusionary," said Barney, a master's candidate in urban planning at Brigham Young University.

Barney rents a house in Sandy.

"Anytime people own their own homes they're a little leery of renters," she said. "It kind of makes renters second-class citizens, but just because you're newly married or are transferred on your job every three years, you aren't a second-class citizen . . . there are a lot of reasons people rent; none are reason to assume they're bad people."

Smith conceded a need for more apartments in the city of 70,000. The Utah Apartment Association in its most recent semiannual survey of apartment demand found a widespread dearth of rental space in the Salt Lake Valley, reporting that in the Sandy area alone the vacancy rate was only 3.1 percent.

"They have to be someplace," said Smith, who doesn't mind seeing condos built on the site and happens to be a homeowner in the same neighborhood. "But this is not the place."

The issue has been simmering since last year, when Magna Investments approached the planning commission with its scheme to develop 104 acres at 2000 East between 9400 and 9800 South. The developer withdrew the proposal, however, waiting for a less-savvy City Council to be sworn in, according to city officials who wished to remain anonymous. The proposal was altered somewhat - but was still essentially intact - when resubmitted after the seven-person Sandy Council in January saw three new members begin their terms.

"They may very well perceive the City Council as more naive now," said one city official.

Magna Investments did not respond to the Deseret News' request for comment.

The company's proposal would create a mixed development that would include - in addition to the 23 acres of apartments or condominiums - 30 acres of commercial property, 38 acres of single-family homes, about seven acres of open space and six acres of street right of way.

Its placement would be on one of the last and most expensive pieces of open real estate in Sandy, next to a tiny horse farm where Bill and Naomi Greene have lived since 1964.

"If I've got a problem with my neighbor, I'd rather deal with one man than a whole apartment-house full of people," Bill Greene said.

At the adjacent Grace Lutheran School & Preschool, Principal Jim Shumacher, who also lives nearby, raised a common concern among residents. Shumacher said he sold a house in Minnesota some years ago at a considerable loss after a new apartment complex in the area drove property values down.

"What'll it do to the property values?" he said. "That's what I'd like to know."