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Aquarium developers want housing instead at Lehi site

But council fears fishbowl unfit for high-density project

SHARE Aquarium developers want housing instead at Lehi site

LEHI — What was sold to Lehi leaders three years ago as an ideal site for a $40 million aquarium exhibit and tourist draw is now just a gravel pit best suited for hiding high-density housing, says the developer.

Paul Taggart, representing the developers of Pilgrim's Landing, told the Lehi City Council this week it's time to adjust the plans. The development is north of Thanksgiving Point in Lehi.

Taggart said the highly touted tourist attraction planned for the north bowl hasn't attracted the funding it needs and probably won't be built. "We're giving up on it," he said.

He said it's "reasonable and rational" to change the rules governing what can be built in the area to allow housing developments. The land is zoned for commercial properties.

Taggart said high-density housing would work well because it could fit into the contours of the site, be hidden from view and provide badly needed affordable housing.

The Pilgrim's Landing project already supports 192 homes designated and rented as affordable apartments. Taggart said the 13-acre site could accommodate 156 more with a mix of market-driven and affordable housing.

Mayor Ken Greenwood opposes wiping away potential spots for businesses, especially when Lehi wants to create a larger tax base with a $12 million special service district.

"I would be very cautious about giving up one foot of commercial area," he said.

Ultimately, the council voted not to change the zoning for the project.

Greenwood said it would be unfair to offer low-income housing in a remote area without stores and services.

Taggart also should not be asking the city to bail out on his original plan now that circumstances have changed, Greenwood said.

"We were counting on this," said Councilman Carl Mellor. "Frankly, I feel we ought to give you a little more time (to develop the aquarium)."

Taggart said he believes he'll be dead and buried before the pit is developed commercially without the aquarium.

"It's not a viable commercial site. It's a big pit with a steep slope," Taggart said.

Taggart said during the time it's taken to recognize that the aquarium, which was to be called the Living Planet, was not going to become a reality, the owners of Thanksgiving Point and others have bought surrounding property with plans for commercial development.

That makes it even more unwise to go ahead with plans for businesses in the bowl area, he said, adding that the project would be privately owned and serviced without cost to Lehi.

And now he wants to know what he can do with the property. Lehi officials haven't given him a definite answer.

"High density has been shot out of the saddle," the mayor said.

E-MAIL: haddoc@desnews.com