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Salt Lake City counters state's pitch for inland port authority

Plan would give city equal power as state on new 'Northwest Quadrant Development Commission'

A truck hauls fill onto the new prison site on the west side of Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018.
A truck hauls fill onto the new prison site on the west side of Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Amid tension with state leaders who have been eyeing the city's northwest quadrant for an inland port — which they made clear last week they believe would require a new governing body to oversee — Salt Lake City leaders have countered with their own proposal.

Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, Council Chairwoman Erin Mendenhall and other city officials met with state leaders on Monday to propose a different approach — one that would give Salt Lake City equal power as the state in overseeing the area's development while also not removing the city's zoning and taxing authority.

"The mayor and (Mendenhall) did a very good job communicating our desire to be partners and share the vision of the northwest quadrant, but also how important maintaining land use authority and taxing authority is to the city," said David Litvack, Biskupski's deputy chief of staff, when updating the rest of the City Council on the proposal Tuesday.

Salt Lake City officials have been wary of any attempt by the state to take control of the northwest quadrant, concerned that the proposed new governing structure might give them limited influence on a board that could be exempt to the city's zoning and land use decisions.

State leaders, however, have said they're not interested in a "hostile takeover" of the area and want to work as a partner with the city to develop an area that they say will be critical for city, county and state economic growth.

Since a bill hasn't yet been filed, it's still not clear how that governing board would look, but state leaders hinted it may look something like a governing body created by a law that has been used in the past for military development projects, which wouldn't be subject to local land use and zoning.

Instead, city leaders have proposed a "Northwest Quadrant Development Commission" — made up of three appointees from the state, three appointees from the city, and one appointee from the county — to create a business plan and recommendations, according to a handout city staff passed out during Tuesday's council meeting.

As part of the business plan, the commission would later "explore and recommend a governance structure for implementation of the business plan," according to the handout.

Litvack said the commission wouldn't necessarily need to be created under a new law and would not be exempt from the city's land use and taxing authority.

Mendenhall described the proposal as a "thorough approach to achieving the shared goals" of the state with regard to a proposed global trading hub like an inland port and the development of the northwest quadrant.

Litvack said House Minority Whip Rep. Francis Gibso, R-Mapleton, and Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton (who has been working on drafting a bill related to the proposed inland port in the northwest quadrant), attended Monday's meeting, but House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, was in Washington, D.C., for a meeting on the Trump administration's infrastructure initiative.

A follow-up meeting is planned for Thursday, Litvack said.

Hughes, Gibson and Stevenson did not immediately return requests for comment Tuesday seeking their thoughts about the proposal.

"It's always evolving, right?" Councilman James Rogers, who represents the city's west side, commented during Tuesday's meeting. He's been a vocal opponent of the state taking any control of the area.

"We all went into this meeting knowing it was the beginning of conversations," Litvack acknowledged.