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`VALLEY CENTER’ OVERCROWDED, UNDERSERVICED

SHARE `VALLEY CENTER’ OVERCROWDED, UNDERSERVICED

Residents living between 500 West and 700 West along 3900 South say they sometimes feel as if they're living on a prison island.

Not only are there no schools, no parks, no recreation facilities, no libraries, no grocery stores and no churches in their neighborhood, there is no way for residents to reach such places except by driving.Try walking to the closest park - Harmony, at 3700 S. Main - and you risk your life, according to Janet Smiley, who says the speeding traffic has come within inches of her and her baby stroller.

It's come closer than that to Jean Jones, who was carrying her granddaughter across 3900 South at 700 West in January when she was hit by a car. Though neither she nor the child was seriously injured, she says the experience was a terrifying lesson in absurd community planning.

Over the past decade, the newly named "Valley Center" area has been saturated with apartment complexes - 1,174 units - evolving into one of the most densely populated and least serviced neighborhoods in Salt Lake County.

Carolyn Alder, one of the few remaining owners of single-family homes in the area, said she and her 3,500 neighbors feel neglected, trapped and frustrated.

"Ten years ago, when they began building all the apartments, we went before the commissioners and told them they should provide services and open space for all the people who would be living in the area, but we were ignored," Alder said.

Now, with 245 additional apartment units planned for the last two pieces of open space in their neighborhood, residents fear it may be too late. More than 200 Valley Center residents appeared before the County Commission last week to plead for action.

"For 10 years now, these apartment complexes have been a great source of revenue for Salt Lake County with little services given back in return," Alder said. The county has even been spared the expense of most public works operations because the apartment complexes provide their own snow removal, road work and garbage collection, she added.

"Quite honestly, they have been shortchanged," said Commissioner Randy Horiuchi. "The mistake was made 10 or 15 years ago, when the apartments were first approved."

Planners and commissioners failed to take into account the large number of children who would be living in the area, Horiuchi said. "They didn't force developers to set aside land for recreation and other services," he added.

The result is that Valley Center children are bused to schools far from their homes. And when they are bused back, Alder said, they have nowhere to go and nothing to do. Gang activity and crime are on the rise, she said.

"Just along 700 West between 3700 South and 4000 South, the sheriff's office logged 776 calls last year - two per day," Alder said. "This is a neighborhood in crisis, and it can only get worse."

Susan Ybarra said, "There is nothing for children to do in the area and nowhere for them to go. You can't walk a half mile in any direction without hitting a freeway, the river or a fence. It's crazy."

The residents asked the County Commission to place a moratorium on further developments, acquire some of the remaining undeveloped land for a park and recreation facilities, improve pedestrian safety at 3900 South crossings and provide library services and foot patrols. They also requested enhanced education support services and supervised activities for children.

County parks and recreation officials have agreed to establish a recreation program for Valley Center children, but it will require busing participants to facilities and parks. Residents said they appreciate the action but called it a "Band-Aid for a broken leg."

Conceding the point, Horiuchi said commissioners have also directed their staff to look at the possibility of acquiring land for a park. "There is a real sentiment on this commission to help these people," he said.

Commissioners, community council leaders and residents have scheduled another meeting for June 7 to discuss options.