SOUTH JORDAN — Details are sparse, but Kennecott Utah Copper Corp. this week told South Jordan leaders it plans to create a 4,500-acre community that might someday be home to 35,000 people.
Local growth and planning experts say the size and uniqueness of the project make it notable — and the announcement predicts the mining giant's involvement in Utah after it has exhausted resources at the enormous open pit Bingham site where it has mined copper since 1906.
Copper company representatives shared the outline of the Sun Rise development project in a brief presentation to the South Jordan City Council Wednesday. "This will be one of the biggest projects Utah has ever seen," City Manager Rick Horst said.
The development, which includes light rail, 1,800 acres of open space and a pedestrian-friendly community, would bring industry and commercial ventures to create 10,000 to 20,000 new jobs.
"This is a big deal," said D.J. Baxter of Envision Utah, one of several area planning experts who have heard bits and pieces of Kennecott's plan. "It's a situation where they will be giving back to the community. It's exciting from the angle of a big company trying to do a good thing."
"If it incorporates light rail and it's a new from-scratch plan, then it's going to be very unique," said Ted Knowlton, associate planner for Fregonese Calthorpe and Associates, a planning firm based in Portland, Ore, that has been studying the development's feasibility for Kennecott for a year.
But the devil is in the details, and few people have seen anything concrete.
Horst said city leaders plan to take a tour July 5 of the property on the extreme western side of South Jordan that Kennecott proposes for the site, to stretch from 9000 South to 11800 South from Bangerter Highway all the way to the Oquirrh Mountains.
"They've been here 100 plus years, have always been part of this valley and always been part of Utah," Horst said. "They're gearing up for a different direction and a continuation of the legacy."
Kennecott is headed for a transition at its main open pit mine in Bingham, about 17 miles southwest of downtown Salt Lake City and directly west of South Jordan. Unless the copper market surges in coming years, Kennecott executives have said the company will have to switch to underground mining sometime in the next decade to remain economically viable.
While details about the Sun Rise plan are sparse, several parties have been talking with the company.
Knowlton said he couldn't comment on specifics about recommendations but said the area is flat, has no steep slopes and no wetlands and is certainly in growth's path.
"Generally, if (a project) is integrating with light rail, it has a pedestrian-oriented development and it's contiguous to South Jordan and other development, it's not a bad thing for development to happen," he said.
The development's light-rail concept is aligned with a long-range plan adopted in 1998 by the Wasatch Front Regional Council. Council staff has met with Kennecott.
"What we have on our plan is a general alignment that goes diagonally through West Jordan and out to the west," said Mick Crandall, program director for the council and an expert on transportation issues. "But I haven't seen their details at all."
The project sketch still has a long approval process to complete with South Jordan before it is formally presented .
But South Jordan City Council member Russell Sanderson already feels good about it. "It's exciting to get a partner like that, and to get an opportunity for that kind of an area that size and to have a partner in developing a community. It is going to develop, but it is better this way than doing it half-acre by half-acre."
Louie Cononelos, director of government and public affairs for Kennecott, said the mining company has several incentives for embarking on the project.
"We have extensive land and water holdings, and undeniably, those holdings have value," he said. "It is our land which basically composes the undeveloped area of South Jordan, and we want some input as to how it is developed, just like any other landowner."
Cononelos said the July 5 tour will give South Jordan leaders a more extensive introduction to Kennecott's plans.
Kennecott, which owns 110,000 total acres mainly west of U-111 to the top of the Oquirrh Mountains, already has tiptoed into development waters. The company recently sold a large section of surplus land, near Magna and U-111 where homes, a McDonald's and a KFC restaurant were quickly built.
Cononelos said a key component of the project will be the significant amount of open space, developed park land, green space buffers next to transportation corridors and a trails network.
"This will be a community where people can live all their life. When you are newly married, you need certain kind of housing, then you need family housing and then you start becoming an empty nester. A lot of communities don't plan for that," Horst said.
The entire development will probably take 20 to 50 years to complete, but Horst said he sees Kennecott's proposal as an exciting opportunity for the entire state. "This is a pretty massive project."