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A big-box victory — Sandy pit will be developed

A sign urging voters to approve development in Sandy gravel pit stands outside area Tuesday. Measure passed 53 percent to 47 percent.
A sign urging voters to approve development in Sandy gravel pit stands outside area Tuesday. Measure passed 53 percent to 47 percent.
Douglas C. Pizac, Associated Press

Sandy has welcomed Wal-Mart.

Residents voted 10,421 to 9,203 Tuesday to approve a zone change that allows big-box development at a former gravel pit at 9400 South and 1000 East. The Boyer Co. has plans to build a mixed-use development with Wal-Mart, Lowe's Home Improvement store, several smaller retailers, walkways, offices and apartments.

The vote comes after a year-and-a-half of contention in Sandy over the site. The Boyer Co. first asked Sandy to change zoning at the site in April 2004, and now — 18 months later — it has voter approval for the change.

"We are really grateful to those voters who really understood why the planning commission approved this project," said Wade Williams, director of retail development for Boyer. "We are committed to convince those who didn't see it that way that this is a quality project that will benefit the community, will be aesthetically pleasing and will bring tax benefits to the community."

Save Our Communities, whose members opposed the zone change, campaigned vigorously against the change, but ultimately did not have the resources or votes to prevail. The group bet that a grass-roots campaign run on roughly $16,000 could beat a similar group backed by the world's richest company.

Friends of Quarry Bend, the committee formed in favor of the zone change, spent "apparently enough to win," according to Kelly Casaday, the group's spokesman. The majority of Quarry Bend's money came from Wal-Mart, and the group ran several radio ads and produced direct mailers.

"I believe that if the vote had taken place before they had started campaigning, we would have won hands-on," said Robyn Bagley, a member of SOC.

Both sides traded leads in the race as votes were counted throughout the evening. The results — 53 percent to 47 percent — nearly mirrored those of the Sandy mayor's race — another tight contest. Mayor Tom Dolan, who won his fourth term Tuesday, garnered 10,278 votes against challenger Gary T. Forbush's 9,296.

Now that the fight over the referendum is over, Boyer can plan for final review of the project's phases. The 107-acre development has at least six phases that all require separate approval

from the planning commission, said Nick Duerksen, Sandy spokesman. A fast turnaround for a final site plan approval by the commission would be about six weeks, and it's possible the commission would approve several phases together. Nonetheless, it's going to be a while before any yellow smiley faces greet residents.

"I would venture to say that if they can be open by summer, that would be incredibly quick," Duerksen said. "They would have to be working seven days a week for that to happen and then hope that the winter is helpful to them."

The City Council first passed the zone change Nov. 23, 2004. Within a month, Save Our Communities had organized a petition drive for signatures to place the zone change on the ballot. The Sandy City recorder initially rejected the group's signatures for having too few signatures. SOC sued the city, asking state courts to lower the threshold. After winding through appeals courts, the Utah Supreme Court ruled July 1 that Sandy must hold the referendum.

The high court also re-wrote the referendum wording after SOC complained it was too wordy and obtuse to decipher. The court's wording, which appeared on ballots Tuesday, asked voters to vote for or against the zone change that allowed several uses prohibited under the old zone.

With the "for" side win, the Boyer Co. will move forward with the 107-acre development, which has several phases expected to be built over the next several years, Williams said.

The SOC activists who campaigned for one year to block the development will adjust, eventually, or find another cause — taking with them the knowledge they gained during the campaign, Bagley said.

"First of all, we will be friends forever, and secondly, we'll be keeping an eye on Sandy," Bagley said. "We respect what the citizens have decided. We gave them the option to choose — certainly we would have liked to prevail, but that's not what happened and we respect that."