HERRIMAN — Citing slower-than-hoped-for negotiations to change the controversial plans for a nearly 8,800-unit community west of Herriman, Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams decided Friday to veto the project.
"While I had hoped that we had time to make changes to the existing proposal that would address the issues raised, discussions with local elected officials haven't moved far enough to make it acceptable," McAdams said.
The mayor said he made the decision after he listened for over two hours at Thursday night's town hall meeting where dozens of south valley residents aired their concerns about the proposed Olympia Hills development that would be similar to the Daybreak community in South Jordan.
"The overwhelming message to me was that the density is too high and the infrastructure is inadequate," McAdams said.
"I think everybody thought we were being inclusive, and clearly that wasn't the case," he said. "We're going to go back to the drawing board."
Before the County Council approved the zoning change last week for the 930-acre development — estimated to bring a community of about 30,000 residents, according to county planning documents — mayors from surrounding cities of Herriman, South Jordan and Riverton protested the project, worried it would become the densest community the state had ever seen.
Herriman Mayor David Watts, who joined McAdams at Friday's news conference, welcomed the veto, calling it "simply an opportunity for us to start that process over again and make sure that all parties are included."
Angry residents called for a veto and filed a referendum application as a backup plan to possibly put the zoning change on a ballot if they could collect enough signatures.
Rep. Mia Love — whom McAdams is challenging for her 4th Congressional District — has also criticized McAdams over the project, calling on him to veto it in a Facebook post earlier this week, while pointing out that he's taken more than $10,000 in campaign contributions from the developers.
After news of McAdams' veto, Love continued to criticize McAdams, calling it "such a publicity stunt."
"This is his project, and he's vetoing his own plan," Love said, noting that the project's plan started in his administration's planning and zoning department.
"He's using this to be the hero when he was actually the one that brought it to the County Council," she continued. "The only reason he's doing it is because he got caught. ... But we all see through it, and he's not going to get away with it."
In response, McAdams said "Mia should stop playing politics and just do her job," adding that "we have serious transportation needs in Utah and she's been ineffective in moving any legislation forward."
"I think we're all tired of Mia Love getting nothing done until it's an election year and then all she can do is point fingers," McAdams said. "She went to Washington and forgot about Utah's issues. My actions are those of a public servant who is in touch with what the public is saying, and that's who I am, and that's who I've been for six years as mayor of Salt Lake County."
McAdams has also dismissed Love's accusations about the campaign contributions, noting that he's received campaign contributions from a variety of people and that he doesn't let donations influence his priorities.
"People know that I make the right decisions, and I fight for my constituents no matter what," McAdams said.
McAdams had 15 days from the council's vote — until June 20 — to veto, though he had previously said he'd hoped negotiations between the local mayors and the project's developer, Doug Young, would reach a compromise and the plans could be altered.
"My ability to exercise influence on negotiations is strongest during this veto window," McAdams said. "And we felt the conversations weren't progressing fast enough to get us to a point that I felt comfortable relinquishing my negotiating position.
Young did not immediately return a request for comment Friday.
The Salt Lake County Council had already decided earlier this week to reconsider the project at its next council meeting on Tuesday to either rescind or amend the zoning change.
But because the project's zoning change passed last week by a 7-1 vote, the council could potentially override McAdams' veto. The County Council now has its own 15-day time period to decide.
However, it's not clear that the council would have the appetite to do so.
"In Tuesday's council meeting, it was pretty evident that the council has issues with this project after hearing from hundreds of residents from the southwest part of the valley," County Council Chairwoman Aimee Winder Newton told reporters Friday.
Newton said she "personally" wouldn't support an override — but she added she hadn't yet had time to gauge opinions from the rest of her colleagues on the council, so "I don't want that misconstrued to be what the council's position would be."
"I'll be making some phone calls, and we'll see where we want to go from there," Newton said.
Though the County Council's agenda for next week hasn't yet been posted, the council's voted earlier this week to place the Olympia Hills plans back on the agenda for its next meeting for reconsideration.
McAdams' veto, however, frustrated at least one council member — but not because he was in favor of the project.
Councilman Steve DeBry, who was the sole council member who voted against the zoning change last week and asked his colleagues to slow down to give more time for input, said the mayor's veto was "very frustrating" and "ironic."
"I've been advocating for this since day one," DeBry said. "And then all of a sudden when they hear the concerns, everyone changes their tune. ... Why did it take all of the outcry for them to come to the senses here when it was it was self-evident from the beginning?"