I might be showing my age, but I easily remember when the Point of the Mountain area overlapping Salt Lake and Utah counties was mostly farmland, interspersed with a few small “rural” towns like Riverton, Bluffdale, Herriman and Lehi.
Today, this is Utah’s fastest-growing region, exploding with growth and economic vibrancy. It is the heart of Utah’s Silicon Slopes technology sector, is a prized region for housing development and it encapsulates all the promise and peril of Utah’s booming economy and population expansion.
This is the place, literally and figuratively, where all the dynamics, forces and undercurrents of soaring growth come together: world-class business and development opportunities, a booming population, a transportation chokepoint that threatens gridlock, the dangers of NIMBYism, along with the need for clean air, clean energy, open space, walking and biking trails, accessible public transit and affordable housing with reasonable density.
It can be a looming nightmare — or it can be one of the greatest economic and quality-of-life opportunities in Utah’s history.
This area is so attractive that major national and international companies and developers are interested in it, and are watching to see how state and local governments guide development. The key to success is avoiding haphazard development that produces congestion, pollution and doesn’t protect Utah’s enviable quality of life.
As an optimist, I believe the future of the Point of the Mountain region can be bright. And I appreciate the farsighted leadership and hard work of local and state officials, and business leaders, who are taking the necessary steps to ensure wise and sustainable development.
Collaborating with city and county leaders, the Legislature has created two entities to help guide the region’s development. The first is the Point of the Mountain Development Commission, which was charged with creating a broad vision for the entire region, including some 22,000 acres of undeveloped land.
The commission engaged Envision Utah, the nation’s premier planning and visioning organization, which conducted a public visioning process involving hundreds of stakeholders, hundreds of workshops and meetings, and eliciting some 4,200 suggestions and comments.
Based on the input and evaluation of various scenarios, a preferred vision was developed and released covering workforce, the environment, community design and transportation. If the preferred vision is implemented, experts predict an additional 150,000 jobs in the four-county area, and a more than $10,000 net increase in household income.
The second entity is the Point of the Mountain Land Authority, which is charged specifically with developing the 700-acre Utah State Prison site. This prized, centrally located land will become available after the prison is moved to Salt Lake City’s northwest quadrant in 2022.
The value and importance of the prison site can hardly be overestimated. It can become a model for progressive, visionary development that can be replicated elsewhere in the region and all across Utah.
The Land Authority recently hired Alan Matheson to lead it. He is an attorney with broad experience in state government and conservation, and he also has served as executive director of Envision Utah.
Matheson said he told the Land Authority that if they just wanted a traditional developer, he wasn’t the person for the job. But if they wanted someone who recognized this initiative as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a model of sustainable development, while also maximizing value and creating good jobs, then he was interested.
Matheson notes that the 700 prison acres is a unique opportunity because it is controlled 100% by the state. If it embraces best practices for clean air, open space, walkability, public transit, mixed use, clean energy and transportation efficiency — while still achieving commercial success — then other developments in the region and across the state will follow. It is an opportunity not just to create jobs, but address Utah’s growth challenges in sustainable ways.
In all, the Point of the Mountain initiative is an enormous undertaking that must move forward quickly, because development is already occurring rapidly. Options and choices for transportation corridors, open space and innovative development will narrow quickly as open land is covered with office buildings, parking lots and housing tracts.
Developed properly, the Point of the Mountain region will positively impact Utah’s economy and quality of life for many decades. As Matheson has suggested, it can become a place where people from throughout the world can come and say, “Utah has figured it out.”