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'Nobody checked with us': Orem residents angry about planned student housing near UVU

FILE - Thousands of Orem residents oppose plans to build student housing near Utah Valley University, fearing a five-story apartment complex will congest traffic as well as reduce their property values and put students' safety in jeopardy.
FILE - Thousands of Orem residents oppose plans to build student housing near Utah Valley University, fearing a five-story apartment complex will congest traffic as well as reduce their property values and put students' safety in jeopardy.
Deseret News archives

OREM — Greg Carlisle, a longtime Orem resident who lives about five blocks from Utah Valley University, says he loves the college.

"My son graduated there, and my daughter worked there," he explained.

Yet Carlisle is one of many community members in southwest Orem who oppose the construction of a new student apartment complex and parking lot close to their homes. They are attempting to force the Orem City Council to put the development before voters through a petition drive.

The council recently approved the rezoning of a residential neighborhood to allow for a student housing project called Palos Verdes, which will be located across the street from Lakeridge Junior High, 951 S. 400 West.

The five-story complex is expected to house up to 1,605 students, and the parking lot will hold 1,200 vehicles.

Before getting the city's approval for the rezone, PEG Development bought and demolished 27 homes on the land, according to Carlisle.

"They just tore them down. Beautiful homes," he said.

"It started two years ago: There's quite a few big areas around UVU where developers have gone in and just bought up everything, and they're just waiting for rezones right across from our homes," Carlisle said.

Some residents fear the new apartment complex will congest traffic on an already-busy street as well as cut their property values and jeopardize the safety of junior high students.

"Nobody checked with us," Carlisle added.

As a result, they are petitioning for the zone change to be put on the city ballot for a referendum. They claim they have support from Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, and Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem.

"My input here is to try to help both sides work together," Daw told the Deseret News.

Daw added that though he is not taking sides, if the petitioners generate the support they are seeking, they deserve to have their voices heard on the issue.

"We want to get everybody to the table, and we have been," Carlisle said.

The petitioners have discussed the issue with UVU President Matthew Holland, Orem Mayor Richard Brunst, the city planning commission, LDS Church leaders and legislators, who have been receptive to their feelings, he said.

In addition to safety concerns, the residents also fear the loss of a "single-family home atmosphere" in their area, according to Carlisle.

However, the land in question will not go back to single-family residential zoning, said Taylor Woodbury, chief operating officer of Woodbury Corp., which is working with PEG Development on the housing project.

"There's so many students that go to UVU, and that's their school of choice. And yet, they can't have the same housing experience that other students in the state of Utah have," he said.

UVU has more than 30,000 students currently enrolled.

If the petitioners successfully block the housing project, the land will probably go to UVU, which will likely put in an academic building or parking lot instead, Woodbury said. Compared to student housing, those would be "commuter traffic nightmares," he added.

"There's a reason the city felt strongly about this being a student housing project. … Of all the potential uses of this property, student housing by far generates the least amount of traffic," he said, noting more students will walk to classes.

"If we can take 1,600 students and take them off the road during the morning and evening commute, not only have we improved traffic dramatically … we've also changed those students' lives and given them the ability to take their schooling more seriously," he said.

Citing a study from the University of Houston, Woodbury said on-campus housing leads to higher grade-point averages, graduation rates and students being able to take more classes.

Woodbury says his company has worked closely with UVU to bring "the first project to the area that could be like an on-campus living experience for their students." While other universities in the state have adequate student housing, UVU is lacking in those opportunities, the Woodbury executive added.

Mayor Richard Brunst of Orem agreed.

"This gives our students the chance to have the on-campus housing experience. … It gives them more apartments to live in, which we're short on," Brunst said.

For Brandon Randolph, who has to walk to his classes at Utah Valley University every day, the idea of new housing near the school is appealing.

"I'd be 10, 15 minutes away from my classes. It'd be perfect," he said.

Aaron Hall, who graduated from UVU in 2017, lived in BYU student housing during his time at the school because he couldn't find housing closer to UVU.

"Luckily, the BYU housing situation is so much more plentiful than the UVU situation that I kind of piggybacked off that instead," he said, adding that this was true for many of his classmates.

Hall thinks a new apartment complex closer to the school will give UVU students better opportunities to become "more immersed in the school" and contribute more to "school spirit."

"Utah County is so entrenched in BYU culture that UVU has to compete a lot," he said.

"It's absurd to have UVU students having to live in BYU student housing because they can't find student housing beds around their own school," Woodbury said.

The petitioners understand the need for more student housing, according to Carlisle. But they want student housing to be built in other areas of Orem that are already zoned for it rather than "creeping into our homes."

"There's room for everybody," Carlisle said.

The petitioners now have close to 5,000 signatures but need 6,741 for residents to be able to vote on the decision in November 2019, according to Carlisle.

On Wednesday, Cameron Martin, UVU's vice president of university relations, reached out to the Deseret News to discuss the petitioners' claim that no one discussed the issue with them beforehand.

Discussions have been held with the residents "for the past two years," he said.

“We want quality neighborhoods and will continue to work with our neighbors and the city to find a way forward," Martin added.

He also emphasized the school's need for more housing for its students.