SANDY — Save Our Communities distanced itself Wednesday from an initial "park, not parking lot" campaign and deflected criticism from its opponents, who allege that the grass-roots group misled supporters in a fight against big-box development at a former gravel pit.
SOC has distilled its message to the big, bold "NO" printed on campaign signs dotting Sandy side yards. The "NO" implores voters to defeat a referendum about a zone change at 9400 South and 1000 East.
A half-dozen members of SOC held an hourlong news conference at the Sandy Library to launch the group's media and voter-education campaign in advance of the Nov. 8 referendum.
SOC fought for and won the right to hold the referendum, which will allow Sandy voters to decide the fate of a Boyer Co. development that depends on a "yes" vote to the change. Approving the change would then allow a Wal-Mart, Lowe's Home Improvement store, office buildings, smaller stores, restaurants and housing.
If voters defeat the referendum, zoning will remain status quo with a limited list of permitted uses such as offices, schools, hotels or open space.
Beginning a little over a year ago, residents opposed to the zone change and development had lobbied Sandy city for a park on the 107 acres. The catchy "park, not parking lot" tag line caught on after residents asked the Sandy City Council and Planning Commission to scrutinize the zone change.
Now, SOC wants the park memory to fade.
"It is not about a park," said Robyn Bagley, a member of SOC. "You will be getting to choose the zone — that's what happens on Nov. 8, bottom line."
The Boyer Co. and some Sandy officials have said SOC misinformed voters about the issue, especially early in the yearlong fight over the gravel pit.
"They have to admit where they evolved from and admit that they deceived people all the way through this," said Tom Dolan, Sandy mayor, who is running for re-election. "As they get closer to an election, they want to tell people that it's not about a park. Why weren't they truthful from the beginning?"
Bagley said residents who signed a petition in favor of holding the referendum were never promised a park and that their work for the referendum has always been "about putting it on the ballot."
"They are confusing people and continue to mislead that we want a park," she said. "Ultimately, the fight is about big-box development."
Even that is debated, however.
Scott Verhaaren, a Boyer Co. partner, said his company doesn't want the zone change campaign to concentrate on big-box stores. Rather, "our objective has been to let people know about the entire project, instead of letting the focus be on one particular use," he said.
SOC also said Wednesday that city coffers would not have a net increase in tax dollars from the big-box stores, as city officials have hoped, because the stores will draw business from elsewhere instead of creating new revenue.
But Bob Springmeyer, who Sandy commissioned to do an economic impact study about the proposed development, said that the site would generate around $300,000 of sales tax revenue each year. He reached that number by analyzing the market area around the gravel pit for household income levels and potential sales.
SOC has disputed the language on the referendum, which Sandy City Attorney Walter Miller crafted. SOC has said the language was unclear and did not give voters a sense of what was at stake in the referendum. The Utah Supreme Court is considering SOC's request to rewrite the language, but has not yet announced any revisions. Sandy city has said that it needs firm language by Oct. 1 to print and distribute ballots.
SOC is to hold another meeting about the referendum Sept. 27 at the Sandy Library. The Boyer Co. does not have any scheduled events at this time, said public relations representative Kelly Casaday.