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Home Depot plan clears hurdle

Conflicting traffic studies and concerns about the "ripple effects" of a big-box store along Highland Drive failed to stop a rezoning needed for a proposed Home Depot store.

The Millcreek Planning and Zoning Commission approved the zone change 3-2 Thursday afternoon, forwarding the issue to the Salt Lake County Council, which will make the final decision. The rezone would change four acres of land at approximately 3500 S. Highland Drive from residential to commercial, creating a total of 11 commercially zoned acres that the store would use.

Commissioner Joan Haven, who voted for the rezone, said that because of the annexations of commercial developments into cities, the unincorporated county needs more tax base. With much of the land already zoned commercial, it made as much sense to allow a big-box store there as it would to allow multiple smaller businesses, such as drive-through restaurants, gas stations or banks.

Haven said that whichever way she voted, she knew she would be unpopular with half of the residents. Based on stickers worn at the meeting by audience members, about half of the crowd opposed the development while the other half supported it.

"I know I'm going to be public enemy No. 1 with somebody," Haven said. "But I'm going to put my neck on the line."

Commissioner Tony Godfrey, who voted against the zone change, said he did not understand the need for a store that would save people only a couple of minutes of travel time and would hurt the many locally owned nurseries and hardware stores that are in the Millcreek area. Instead of simply bowing to a big corporate store, he urged the planners to find new uses for the land, such as a park, library or even rehabilitated housing.

"We need to think outside of the box, both figuratively and literally," Godfrey said. "Let's be creative. . . . To build a big-box store there is the most unimaginative thing we can do there."

Prior to the vote, Dave Winnie, associate broker for Home Depot's developer, Internet Properties, said the store would not have any more impact on traffic or the local community than a shopping mall with smaller retail stores or a large office tower. What a Home Depot would do, however, is improve a blighted residential area and bring valuable tax dollars to the county, he said.

"The proposed zone change makes sense, regardless of the intended use," Winnie said. "It's good planning."

Opponents of the store, however, asked that the zone change be delayed until they can develop a master plan for the newly created township. Otherwise, planning will be done without insight into the overall goals of the community.

"Whether it's in our golden years or during our children's years, let's decide what is best for this area," East Millcreek Chairman Richard Lee said.