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Envision Utah toils today to offer correct choices tomorrow

"The most forgettable name in Utah's history."

That's what one TV pundit called the Utah Quality Growth Public-Private Partnership's moniker when the group first formed a year ago. It was a name as sprawling as the metropolis it was trying to plan for.Last fall, the group adopted a more memorable and media-friend-ly name: Envision Utah. But it's still an entity that confounds most Utahns.

Who are all these people? And how might they change your life?

Envision Utah, as its former name so clearly yet laboriously implied, is a partnership of Utahns from the public and private sector who are interested in helping the state grow in a way that preserves, or enhances, quality of life.

It aims to be a grass-roots effort at planning rather than a top-down one, although the grass at this point is still a bit manicured. Chaired by Robert Grow, the president of Geneva Steel, it currently lists 100 influential Utahns on its board. (Grow's name was not a prerequisite to being chosen, simply a nice coincidence.)

Over the next year, Envision Utah hopes to get the entire population of the Greater Wasatch Front involved in planning the growth of the region. It's a tall order.

A broad-based effort

Similar efforts to plan for growth failed in the early 1970s, when voters rejected a referendum on land-use planning. The mistake then, says Envision Utah executive director Stephen Holbrook, was to not involve homebuilders and developers - who then lobbied against the measure.

This time around, he says, there has been an effort "to have as many different stakeholders at the table as possible."

Envision Utah grew out of the Coalition for Utah's Future, which grew out of Project 2000, which was formed in 1985 as on outgrowth of a KUTV documentary about Utah's future.

Like its eventual offspring, Project 2000 was made up of a cross-section of movers and shakers of various stripes (developers, environmentalists, conservatives, liberals). Karen Shepherd was a board member, before she became a member of Congress. So were Utah Supreme Court Justice Michael Zimmerman and developer Richard Prows. The goal was dialogue and consensus; the process included town meetings, documentaries, symposiums.

Project 2000 begat the Coalition for Utah's Future in 1987. In 1990 the two groups merged into the Coalition for Utah's Future/Project 2000 and continued to tackle issues such as child care, transportation and rural growth.

In 1995, the coalition sponsored a survey to determine what Utahns were most concerned about. Growth issues, they discovered, topped the list.

A year ago the group launched a separate entity, the Utah Quality Growth Public-Private Partnership, now called Envision Utah. The goal is to not get mired in current controversies (over the Legacy Highway, for example, or I-15 reconstruction), but to come up with a plan for future growth - one that, they hope, would prevent such controversies.

Envision Utah's board is made up of developers, bankers, environmentalists, affordable housing advocates, mayors, educators, and leaders of three religions. Stephen Covey is a member. So is Steve Young. Members also include Stan Parrish of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, Chris Seguro of La Raza, developer Roger Boyer, and Utah Open lands director Wendy Fisher.

Envision Utah is funded by a matching grant of $500,000 from the George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Foundation. Envision Utah's staff is still working to raise a matching $500,000 from both government and private sectors.

A common vision

Creating a common vision of what Utahns want their state to be in the next 50 years is Envision Utah's goal, says chairman Robert Grow.

The issues of growth are complex and overlapping (transportation decisions affect density, which in turn affects transportation, which affects air quality, and so on), Grow noted at a planning symposium last fall. "We trust the people of Utah to make decisions if they understand what the choices are."

The 100 members of Envision Utah meet periodically in various issues groups (air quality, transportation, open space, water, housing, economic development, neighborhoods). Honorary co-chairmen are Gov. Leavitt and Larry H. Miller.

Although some might find irony in naming a car dealer to be the honorary head of a group that will tackle growth issues, Grow disagrees. "I think of Larry Miller as Utah's Everyman."

Last spring, the group hired a research firm to conduct three-hour interviews with a sampling of Utah residents to determine underlying "quality of life" values that might drive growth decisions.

The most commonly held value was the strong feeling of community and the desire to keep Utah a safe haven.

The group has recently hired urban planning guru Peter Calthorpe of Berkeley, Calif., along with former Portland, Ore., planner John Fregonese. Both men will help orchestrate a complicated process of brainstorming and data analysis. That process starts with community workshops, where citizens can help create alternative growth scenarios. The scenarios will be alternatives to the path Utah is headed down if it continues to grow as it is now. That path is based on baseline data gathered by QGET (Quality Growth Efficiency Tools), an arm of the state's Office of Planning and Budget. (QGET, funded by the state, is not a part of Envision Utah but will work with it.)

Pulling it all together

The scenarios suggested by these community workshops will then be distilled by Calthorpe, Fregonese and Envision Utah into three or four scenarios. At that point, then, there will be a total of four or five scenarios - the new ones, plus the one that will happen if Utah just keeps on without any new planning.

In early 1999, Envision Utah will conduct a "massive public awareness campaign" that might include newspaper inserts, radio spots and coupons available at local convenience stores. Utahns will be asked to vote for their scenario choice.

Envision Utah will then compile that data and come up with what will probably be a hybrid scenario.

What happens after that is a little murkier. "Presumably with that much public input and involvement of all the stakeholders, there will at least be a rough consensus that that's the way we ought to go," says Holbrook.

Exact implementation of the growth choices - changes in zoning laws, decisions about highway funding, etc. - is unclear at this point, he says.

"This process is not tidy," says Grow. He quotes a planner who once noted that "if you want the hen to lay, you have to tolerate the cackle."

"We're in the cackle phase," says Grow.