Trying to keep Orem's "golden goose" - the University Mall - alive, the city's planning commission has denied a request from Fred Meyer Co. that would pave the way for a superstore at 800 East and 1300 South.
"You're going to choke the goose that laid the golden egg in Orem for the last 20 years (if you approve the Fred Meyer plan)," said Wynn Hemmert, speaking in behalf of the Best-Use-of-The-Signetics-Property group."Access to the University Mall will become more difficult, and people will be persuaded to go elsewhere to shop."
Several commissioners believe a better use for the 23-acre site - previously occupied by Signetics and still owned by Phillips Electronics - would be an extension of Utah Valley State College programs. That extension is part of a mixed-use proposal being pushed by a Utah County group.
"It's interesting to me that we have two Cinderellas, each trying to claim the slipper," said Commissioner Ray Nelson.
"Here that building sat vacant for what, four years? And if either one had come in singularly, we'd have been thrilled to have each one."
Those pushing the Utah County plan emphasized that it would support education for young people in the valley, would set aside space to showcase a premiere collection of dinosaur bones from Brigham Young University and would help keep promises made to the neighborhood when University Mall went in.
"It has to stop somewhere," said John Aldrich, also representing the citizens group, "This area serves as a buffer zone between us and the retail district. We welcome Fred Meyer to Orem but not here."
Lew Swain of the Boyer Company and Clifford Youngman of Fred Meyer said their proposal "crossed the finish line first" and should be considered on its merits, not against other options.
Swain said his plan would use the larger of the existing buildings for a 144,000-square-foot Fred Meyer superstore, would tear down the west buildings in lieu of two small pad sites and would not significantly increase the traffic on 800 East and 1300 South.
"It will be significant but yet comparatively insignificant," said Swain, citing a traffic study Fred Meyer had taken as backup data to his statements.
"We're really concerned about 1300 South," said Ed Gifford, Orem city engineer. "We agree that we're going to kill the golden goose. There's only so much traffic you can put on there and we're almost at gridlock in some areas already."
Gifford said he had questions about the study and wanted more time to analyze it. He asked the commission to postpone a decision until he could do that.
However, the commission voted 5-2 for a motion by LuAnn March. It called for denial of a zone request that would have changed the area from research and development to commercial.
"I honestly believe UVSC would be my choice for that property," said Nelson, "But I am troubled at the 11th-hour timing."
State Rep. Norm Nielsen, R-Orem, said the county plan is not a last-minute thing but a two-year "marathon" that came together just 24 hours before the Fred Meyer offer was made. On Tuesday, the state Board of Regents endorsed the idea of letting the Utah County Commission buy the big, empty Signetics building in Orem in part for state college use.
Two commissioners protested the wholesale discussion of the county proposal when only the Fred Meyer offer was in place.
Commissioner Stan Adams said since Fred Meyer has the option to buy, "there's no point in looking at other offers until this is turned down."
Commissioner Richard Steinkopf said he came expecting to deal with one thing and found most of the time spent on "something other than land use."
He pointed out that if the state college goes on the property, the city will lose any control. "Do you understand that?" he asked the neighbors.
Neighbors had gathered 350 names on a petition protesting the zone change and amendent to the general plan. Aldrich said if they had known the area would be zoned retail, none of the homeowners would have purchased.
"We've invested over $10 million into the improved property we have," said Aldrich. "That's more than the price of the Signetics property."
The matter goes next to the City Council for hearing.