SALT LAKE CITY — Though city and county officials have agreed to negotiate changes to the nearly 8,800-unit Olympia development near Herriman that's sparked outrage, concerned residents took action Monday to have a "plan C" in place if talks fall through.
Herriman resident Justin Swain — who also started a Change.org petition to block the "outrageous" development, which as of Monday morning was signed by more than 10,000 — along with a handful of other residents filed a referendum application with the Salt Lake County Clerk's Office to put the county's zoning change up for a public vote.
Under state statute, a land use law passed by a local legislative body can be put on a ballot if a referendum petition gathers signatures equal to more than 20 percent of all votes cast in the municipality's last presidential election.
In 2016, 423,743 votes were cast in Salt Lake County, according to Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen. So Swain and other signature gatherers would need to collect at least 84,749 valid signatures in order to put the referendum on the ballot.
Since state law gives petitioners five days after the passage of a local law, Monday was the referendum application's deadline. Once the county clerk's office processes the application and the signature packets are issued, signature gatherers will have 45 days to collect that many signatures — and the development is paused until the signatures can be counted.
But Swain said he sees the referendum as a "plan C."
"I hope we don't have to gather (84,000) signatures," he said as he was filling out the paperwork at the clerk's office. "It's a pretty high number."
"I don't think any of us really want to have to do it, but, if everyone's unwilling to budge, then we'll go ahead and do it," Swain added.
Late last week — amid an outpouring of public pushback — Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams asked to push pause on approval of the Olympia development agreement, which was previously scheduled for a vote by the Greater Salt Lake Municipal Services District this week before it was delayed.
Herriman officials have also said they are hopeful negotiations with the developer, Doug Young, will result in agreements that may reduce the development's density, which currently would bring an estimated 30,000 residents to about 930 acres, according to county planning documents.
McAdams also has the option to veto the County Council's zoning change (before it expires June 20) but said he'd rather first see if an agreement can be reached since the council could potentially override a veto. The council previously passed the zoning change with a 7-1 vote.
"A veto is not the preferred option," McAdams said, calling it a "plan B." "What we'd like to do is bring the parties together and work this week to try and find something that can be acceptable."
McAdams said he has "challenged" everyone to come to an agreement by Friday. He also announced plans to hold a town hall meeting on the issue Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at Herriman High School, 11917 S. Mustang Trail Way.
"I know there's a lot of concern and uncertainty from residents in the vicinity of this, so we'd like to see if we can find common ground as quickly as possible," McAdams said.
Swain said he met with McAdams earlier Monday to deliver his petition. Based on his conversation with the mayor, Swain said he's hopeful elected leaders will come to an agreement — but the referendum is a "plan C" for voters to fall back on if negotiations fall through and a veto either doesn't happen or fails.
"Hopefully we come to an agreeable resolution," Swain said.
Swain also noted that he and his neighbors don't want to appear "un-neighborly or unwilling to grow out there," but rather they'd prefer a more "reasonable" development.
"We all recognize we're surrounded by open land that's not going to remain open land," Swain said. "I myself live in a new development; I've only been there for a year, so it would be pretty hypocritical of me to be opposed to that. But what people need to realize is what we're opposed to is a density that's three times the current highest density in the state."
Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs — who joined mayors from Herriman, West Jordan and Copperton Township to issue a joint statement last week calling for the County Council to reject the zoning change — came to the clerk's office Monday morning to support the cause as a "concerned citizen," saying he plans to sign the referendum if it comes to needing signatures.
Staggs said he applauds McAdams and other elected officials for negotiating — but he sees the referendum as a backup plan.
"There's no guarantee, right?" he said, also noting that 84,000 signatures is a "monumental amount of work."
"It's a very high bar," he said. "But we're hopeful we can have successful negotiations."
Later Monday, the southwest valley mayors met with McAdams to discuss the project, but negotiations were still ongoing, said Herriman spokeswoman Tami Moody.
"We are working as diligently as we can to get all parties' input," she said. She said they're "hoping" to reach an agreement by Friday, noting that the County Council could still override a veto.
County Council Chairwoman Aimee Winder Newton — who was out of town for last week's vote — said Monday afternoon she had meetings planned to discuss the project, but she didn't have any new details to share yet.
"As council members, we are definitely interested in what the public has to say," she said, welcoming ongoing talks.
Meanwhile on Monday, Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, — whom McAdams is challenging in the 4th Congressional District race this year — accused McAdams in a Facebook post of "trying to look like a power broker" in the Olympia development controversy, "when just last week McAdams was pushing for high-density housing as his own solution and refused to listen to the mayors' and residents concerns."
"The proof is in the donations," Love wrote, pointing out that Young and another developer who has a separate project in Herriman, John Gust of Arbor Land, have donated more than $10,000 to McAdams' congressional campaign, according to campaign financial disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission's through April.
"Utahns won't be fooled with the 'pay McAdams to play' tactics," Love said. "I will continue to fight for my community until Ben vetoes the proposal."
McAdams' campaign manager, Andrew Roberts, said McAdams has been "very clear about his intention to issue a veto should a compromise fail to be found" and noted he's scheduled a public town hall Thursday to hear from residents.
"He's doing what he always does, which is reach out, bring everyone to the table, and look for the best solution — that's the type of public servant he is," Roberts said.
"Frankly, I'd say I'm surprised to see an otherwise absent congresswoman take an interest in a local issue except for the fact that, in typical Washington, D.C., fashion, she's desperate to distract from the hundreds of thousands of dollars she's taken from Big Pharma and Wall Street special interest groups to roll back consumer protections and ensure that drug companies are able to drive up prescription drug prices continue raking in record-high profits," Roberts added.