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Aiming to master plan southwest, Salt Lake County leaders look to Daybreak as ‘gold standard’

SHARE Aiming to master plan southwest, Salt Lake County leaders look to Daybreak as ‘gold standard’
FILE - Workers from Dawson building systems put up a wall of a home being built in Daybreak on Friday, Feb. 3, 2017. As Salt Lake County leaders turn eyes southwest, strategizing on how to best master plan the last swath of undeveloped land in Utah's most

FILE - Workers from Dawson building systems put up a wall of a home being built in Daybreak on Friday, Feb. 3, 2017. As Salt Lake County leaders turn eyes southwest, strategizing on how to best master plan the last swath of undeveloped land in Utah’s most populous county, they’re looking at South Jordan’s Daybreak to set the example.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SOUTH JORDAN — As Salt Lake County leaders turn eyes southwest, strategizing on how to best master plan the last swath of undeveloped land in Utah's most populous county, they're looking at South Jordan's Daybreak to set the example.

The Salt Lake County Council on Tuesday — the second day of the county's "Growth Summit" aimed at planning the future of about 32,000 acres of developable land in the valley's west side — heard from the designers of Daybreak, the 4,200-acre community in South Jordan known for its mixture of "villages," town houses and apartments.

County Councilman Michael Jensen called Daybreak the "gold standard" for master planned communities, noting it's been ranked in the nation's top best-selling communities over the last several years.

The aim of Tuesday's discussion was to show "what you're able to do" with a "blank slate" of land, Jensen said.

Of the 32,000 acres of developable land in Salt Lake County's west side, only about 6,000 acres are in unincorporated areas — areas the county has planning jurisdiction over. The rest lies within city boundaries.

FILE - Construction on condominiums continues in Daybreak on Friday, Feb. 3, 2017.

FILE - Construction on condominiums continues in Daybreak on Friday, Feb. 3, 2017.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Stephen James, "visionary" of Daybreak, gave the County Council a presentation on what makes Daybreak "work," and how it's aimed at creating a community where people "love to live, work and play" while challenging the traditional concept of single-family home neighborhoods.

The focus, James said, isn't on "density" but rather on creating "great places" aimed at offering a sense of community with an emphasis on people and connectivity, rather than fragmenting neighborhoods in isolation. No more cul-de-sacs, but more street connections. No more homes with street-facing garages, but rather street-facing porches.

"In the suburbs, there isn't a choice at all — you're forced to live in a very specific way," James said. "You come and go to your front door, and your garage essentially becomes your front door."

Rather than a system like a "human heart," James said the urban sprawl and its transportation network Utahns have become so familiar with only "funnels" people into larger and larger streets.

In Daybreak, "we don't have streets that collect, we have streets that connect," James said.

"So even though our density exceeds any other place outside of the downtown core in Utah, we don’t have a traffic problem," he said.

But Daybreak hasn't been without controversy. The 930-acre, 8,800-unit Olympia Hills development near Herriman was modeled somewhat after Daybreak — but a wave of public outrage led former Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams to veto the project and send it back to the drawing board.

County Councilwoman Ann Granato questioned how Daybreak designers planned such a dense community when "density" has become a "flashpoint" to public controversy. Take what happened in her district at the site of the former Cottonwood Mall, for example.

"They laid out a very well modulated, mixed-use plan. It went to the City Council, it was examined in depth, determined to be something that would be an absolute asset to the area, and the only question that was asked by the public was (about) density. A referendum went on to the ballot, and the entire project was sunk before it got out of the gate based solely on density," Granato said.

"What type of public engagement can you get so that people will look behind the density to the actual validity of the project?" she asked. "Because we have no ability to do that at all."

Rulon Dutson, director of external relations for Daybreak Communities, answered simply: "The worst moment to recognize you haven’t had public involvement is in the middle of a public hearing."

FILE - Construction on condominiums continues in Daybreak on Friday, Feb. 3, 2017.

FILE - Construction on condominiums continues in Daybreak on Friday, Feb. 3, 2017.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Dutson credited partnerships with the city of South Jordan and Daybreak's public engagement efforts, as well as the flexibility to adjust plans. At the same time, Daybreak's development agreement allows planners to "break the rules when it makes sense," James said.

When Kennecott first tasked a team with designing the community, not a single town house existed in South Jordan, James said. It wasn't always easy, but he said what made Daybreak easier for elected officials and neighbors to digest was their strategy of gradually phasing into different, "higher intensity" housing types that felt natural to the area.

"People become reactive to things they're not familiar with and don't understand," James said. "And so it requires careful development of the edges and not being too abrupt or too quick."

Plus, James said he understands why "fear" is associated with "density."

"I think we've all seen in the valley many examples of poorly executed density and that's why density is the issue," James said. "People don't trust developers to do the right thing because they haven't."