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In our opinion: Silicon Slopes planning begins to mature and excite

FILE: Traffic flows smoothly on northbound and southbound I-15 at the Point of the Mountain in Draper on Friday afternoon, Sept. 2, 2016.
FILE: Traffic flows smoothly on northbound and southbound I-15 at the Point of the Mountain in Draper on Friday afternoon, Sept. 2, 2016.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

As it turns out, one of the fastest growing communities in what is now the fastest growing state still has a lot of room to grow. Twenty-thousand acres of room to be exact. This presents an immense challenge to those assigned the task of overseeing development in the area becoming known as Silicon Slopes. There are signs the planning process, centered largely on the land to be left behind by the Utah State Prison, is headed in the right direction.

The prison acreage, however, is only a fraction of the land ripe for development in the area, making it necessary that planning is coordinated so as to avoid the many hazards that will be unleashed if it isn’t.

As mentioned, there are an estimated 20,000 acres between Sandy and Lehi awaiting development of some sort. But the most vexing part of the planning riddle will be in the area of transportation. We previously applauded the efforts of Envision Utah, the planning agency given the job of contemplating development options for the prison land, which has now begun to reach out to incorporate input on proposals for the Point of the Mountain.

Yet any plan must get transportation right.

There is already heavy congestion in the area, with arteries clogged every day during rush hours and often in between. It’s also territory sandwiched between mountain ranges and lakeshores, leaving little opportunity for new expressways. The early signs in the planning process indicate those in charge are well aware of the challenge, speaking often about the need to coordinate transportation. Yet for any plan to succeed, the talk must quickly turn into concrete cooperation.

The Point of the Mountain Development Commission, created by the Legislature to oversee the process, has brought together transportation agencies along with county and city governments to begin the planning process around a single table. That will hopefully serve to reduce the internecine squabbling that can occur among various agencies when planning objectives are determined outside a given agency’s control.

We saw an example of that in the efforts of West Jordan to encourage social media giant Facebook to build a data processing center in town. While the city moved aggressively to lure the facility, state and county agencies with a say in the matter weren’t so sure, and the project turned into a public back and forth.

There’s a lot of excitement about the potential for development at the prison site and surrounding environs. There should also be some degree of trepidation. The right kind of planning will seek to create sustainable communities in which people can live, work and recreate. It should preserve what makes Utah attractive in the first place, adequate open space and livability. Even though that may not — at first blush — seem aligned with the profit interests of landowners and developers, it will pay dividends to Utah in less direct ways for years to come.

It’s a high-stakes game in which the future of the last swath of developable land along the urbanized Wasatch Front hangs in the balance. We are encouraged that those in charge of the process are speaking to how the right kind of planning can lead to a diverse, unique and prosperous haven where residents enjoy an envious quality of life.