MURRAY — The Fireclay district in this mid-valley town has been called underutilized by the diplomatic and downright ugly by the indiscreet.
The area between State Street and a hard railroad line at approximately 200 West stretches from 4500 South to Big Cottonwood Creek, roughly at 4100 South. Weed fields, industrial work yards and fenced-in piles of junk mostly occupy the 97-acre site that city officials are salivating to redevelop.
Developers have been reluctant to invest the millions of dollars necessary to create just the proper road access to the area (building an underpass beneath a hard rail line is estimated to cost at least $4 million), so the city has created a redevelopment agency project that would use some tax revenue from future development on the site to pay for improvements to the site.
Murray Mayor Dan Snarr is the most vocal and enthusiastic of all pro-development city officials. During his 7 1/2-year tenure (he is up for re-election this November; two opponents have filed already), Snarr has overseen development in a dozen or so spots in Murray. At least three of those have included big-box stores that residents in Holladay, Sandy and Riverton shun. Snarr is unabashedly pro-business and argues that his stance will make Murray into The Little Bedroom Community That Could.
"Let's do something about urban sprawl by dealing with urban blight," Snarr said, repeating his argument that zoning for high-density, mixed-use development will prevent both treeless subdivisions for starter families and inflated house prices that only rich folk can afford. "We could make that the premier transit-oriented development in the region."
It's rare to find a naysayer against developing the area — there is very little attractive development on the site now. However, an RDA would tie up millions of dollars over the next 15 to 20 years that otherwise would go to the county and Murray City School District, and district administrators want to make sure that they receive enough money to educate children who would live in the proposed mixed-use housing development.
A preliminary development plan for the Fireclay RDA calls for a mixture of large box stores near State Street and smaller, regional boutique stores west of Main Street. The development will abut a TRAX station and eventually be near a commuter rail line. That, and its proximity to I-15, puts it within walking distance of several major transportation corridors — a fact not lost on city officials, who want to model Fireclay after transit-oriented developments on the West Coast.
Above all, the city wants high-density housing — apartments, condos, townhouses — aimed at a middle- to upper-middle class population. Inevitably, children will live in those housing complexes, and those children will need education.
"You're going to send us a lot of kids under this RDA, and if you take all the money, it makes it difficult for the district to educate them," said Richard Tranter, Murray superintendent.
The school district proposes that the RDA give it nearly $3 million over a 15-year period to offset the cost of educating children from the development; the RDA has thus far offered $1.5 million. The compromise amount will be determined in talks between school board members and RDA officials, including Keith Snarr, Murray's economic development director.
Three Murray school board members sit on a committee that approves the RDA budget and plan — their block of votes on the eight-member committee is a strong voice for the school district that city leaders should pay attention to, Tranter said.
The city completed its blight study earlier this year. The next step for the RDA is to adopt a budget and plan. The committee of representatives from taxing entities in Murray will meet Tuesday to consider the budget and plan, and the school board will meet again on Aug. 10 to consider its position on the budget. A public hearing is scheduled for Sept. 13 on the plan and budget.
Jim Brass, a city councilman who chairs the RDA board, said Fireclay will revitalize Murray with its mix of housing and shops, and the development can be an example of appropriate RDA use for other communities.
"I'd like to see a unique community over there that we can look back at, point to, and say, 'This is the good that can come with the RDA,' " Brass said. "It's not just running people out of their homes so we can build a large superstore. It's taking a challenged piece of property and making it better — making it into a nice community."
Keith Snarr, who is not immediately related to Mayor Dan Snarr, sees the Fireclay area as an investment for Murray. "You work together to encourage this area to redevelop, and if you do that you're going to have a bigger pie at the end of the day," Keith Snarr said.