Salt Lake County commissioners arrived for the demolition of Holladay's so-called "white elephant" building Friday, expecting accolades and cheers from grateful residents.
Instead, they were greeted by the jeers of people protesting their refusal to allow a vote on the proposed incorporation of The Cottonwoods.Located on the border of the proposed new city at 2210 E. Murray-Holladay Road, the vacant, five-story office building has been an irritant to area residents for more than a decade.
Commissioners won praise from the community earlier this year when they purchased the structure for $600,000 and promised to replace it with a sheriff's substation, fire station, park or some other "low-profile" public facility.
But when commissioners Jim Bradley and Randy Horiuchi appeared for a "photo opportunity" during the start of demolition Friday morning, they were upstaged by placard-waving supporters of The Cottonwoods.
On Wednesday, the commissioners decided not to put the incorporation proposal on the November ballot because it would be "detrimental" to the rest of the unincorporated county. They said the small population of the proposed city (6,800) would be out of proportion to the sales tax revenue generated by the Cottonwood Mall.
"It would have taken $2 out of the pockets of everyone in the unincorporated area and given it to the people of Holladay. We have to be fair to all the citizens," Bradley said.
Commissioners considered cutting the mall out of the new city, but concluded residents could have simply retrieved it with 500 signatures on a petition, Bradley said. "So our only recourse was to not hold an election."
Incorporation organizer Trisha Topham called Bradley's argument a "smoke screen." She noted that a week earlier, the commission put the proposed incorporation of nearby Union on the Nov. 8 ballot, even though it would have roughly the same economic impact on the county as The Cottonwoods.
According to Topham, the difference is that The Cottonwoods is expected to reap a budget surplus without the imposition of a franchise tax, making it a more attractive proposition for voters.
Carrying signs stating, "Let Us Vote" and "Tea Party II,"' the protesters called the commission action illegal and "unAmerican." Several of them engaged Bradley and Horiuchi in spirited curbside debates.
Accusing the commissioners of breaking promises that they wouldn't stand in the way of an election, resident Richard Swinyard said, "None of the three has any integrity."
He and other protesters said commissioners probably lost any good will they might have gained by the demolition of the eyesore when they thwarted a vote on The Cottonwoods.
Holladay-Cottonwood Community Council member Linda Norton said commissioners deserve the community's gratitude for eliminating the "$12 million monstrosity."
"But people are very upset with their decision on the incorporation," she added. "It doesn't matter if you're for or against incorporation, the right of self-determination is what made America great. People don't want to lose that right."
Marilyn Kesler said, "Everybody is upset. We want to control our own destiny. The county is too big to leave in the control of that threesome."