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Cities, developers urged to cooperate

Needs of retailers and residents must be considered

Perhaps short on details, a group of government and development officials on Friday urged a truce among local developers, city governments, retailers and residents.

The panel gathered in Salt Lake City for the International Council of Shopping Centers' Mountain Stages Idea Exchange said Utah's economic future is at stake.

"If we don't have a good relationship between the development community and the government community, things will be bad," said Randy Horiuchi, a Salt Lake County councilman.

Several speakers and audience members said redevelopment laws need tweaking or that more of a balance between developer and community needs should be struck.

Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan said he considers cities and developers partners.

"There has never been a time in the history of the state of Utah, at least, where we need to work together more," he said, suggesting that new tools are needed for city government to assist in developer infrastructure needs. Without that, he said, "I don't see a lot of investment coming to the state of Utah."

Dolan said he believes Utah cities are not competing with each other for development, but rather that Utah communities are competing against Phoenix, Denver, Boise and Las Vegas.

Gary Luebbers, West Jordan city manager, said working together can lead to a win-win situation. "I think to say that there should be partnerships between cities and developers is probably a little bit naive, but to say that we both can go to the same end and be successful is very likely, and that's what we try to do," he said. "There's no reason we can't reach the same end."

The issue of conflicting goals, however, reached a head recently when Smith's Food and Drug confronted local opposition regarding its replacement of a 35-year-old store in Sugarhouse. Wade Williams, senior vice president of corporate development for Smith's, noted that getting approval for a new store in a Nevada town took only the faxing of a one-page site plan, whereas with the Utah project "it takes you two years to do exactly what they (the city) asked you to do, and they tell you, 'We've changed our mind.' It is frustrating," he said.

Alison Gregersen Weyher, community and economic development director for Salt Lake City, said the city is streamlining and

clarifying the process and authorities the community councils have in the development-approval process. "That's our goal," she said. "Whether or not we'll be able to accomplish that in a timely manner, I don't know. But we agree that in some instances community councils have taken on authority they do not have."

She said government's role is to balance the needs of the community against those of developers. "That's a very tough act and a very tough balance to try and achieve, and I think I can tell you that right now Salt Lake City is not meeting that balance," she said. "I have to admit, right now getting new projects going in Salt Lake County is very cumbersome."

Rick Woodbury, president of Woodbury Corp., agreed with the partnership concept, stressing that communities have a right to establish how they want to grow while retailers know what it takes to have a successful store. Cities, however, sometimes create developer monopolies that shut out other companies and raise the city's cost of living. "If that's what they want, that's fine. . . . Those are their choices," he said.

He suggested that communities provide timely responses to developer proposals and better guidance in order to save the companies from wasting time and money on projects that won't fly.

Nevin Limburg, Logan's economic development director, said developers also must realize differences between communities. "Cities want to be different," he said. "They want to be the city they feel they ought to be, and not just every same retail outlet is going to plop down in every city the same, and I know that is hard for some development."

Prior to the panel's remarks, John Thackeray, state director of ICSC's Idaho/Montana/Utah region, said developers, cities and communities "sink or sail together." It's the top issue for the industry, he said.

"I think that's the conflict we still have in our community, nationwide: this no growth vs. controlled growth attitude we have in municipalities," he said.


E-mail: bwallace@desnews.com