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Salt Lake County blocks farmers’ petition to annex into North Salt Lake, stopping 1,100-unit development

SHARE Salt Lake County blocks farmers’ petition to annex into North Salt Lake, stopping 1,100-unit development
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FILE - Heather Limon, owner of Cross E Ranch, shows where housing is going to be built next to her property in North Salt Lake on Friday, Aug. 30, 2019.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — A proposed annexation that would bring a 1,100-unit development to about 400 acres of unincorporated farmland south of North Salt Lake hit a dead end this week — at least for now.

The Salt Lake County Council last week voted 6-3 to reject the proposal, coined the Misty River/North Pointe annexation, effectively stopping it in its tracks — though they did leave the door open for a revised proposal.

Currently, however, the proposed annexation into North Salt Lake is stalled, caught between clashes with farmers fighting for what they argue are their private property rights, and neighbors up in arms over the prospect of apartments, town houses and single-family homes sprouting up in the agricultural area.

Complicating matters for the unincorporated land is a tangled web of governments — including Salt Lake County, North Salt Lake, Salt Lake City and Salt Lake City’s Department of Airports — an issue property owners in favor of the annexation say they’ve dealt with for decades, complaining of living in somewhat of a no-man’s-land when it comes to police and fire services.

“It’s disappointing,” Heather Limon, co-owner of Cross E Ranch, one of the largest property owners that signed on as a supporter of the annexation, told the Deseret News on Friday, though she indicated there may be changes to the proposal to bring it back for reconsideration.

“We’ll see where it goes,” she said.

Limon’s neighbors, LaVal and Teresa Drechsel, who would sell about 125 acres to developer Dave Tolman for the development to relocate their farming operation to make it more sustainable for future generations, didn’t return a request for comment Friday.

Before last week’s vote, the Salt Lake County Council heard from farmers and neighbors supporting or opposing the annexation, ultimately siding with pleas to stop the annexation petition from proceeding to North Salt Lake. Under state law, an annexation into another county, in this case Davis County, would first need a green light from the county being left.

For County Councilman Arlyn Bradshaw, the issue was a lack of unanimity.

“It’s true that the residents representing the majority of the land have consented, but I’m not sure it’s a majority of the residents,” Bradshaw said. “It doesn’t seem unanimous in terms of what the residents want.”

Limon, the Drechsels and other property owners supporting the annexation urged the County Council to allow the petition to move forward — still to be vetted within a lengthy process.

“Your decision today is simply to say, are you going to let us get out of the starting gate?” the developer’s attorney, Paxton Guymon, told the council. “Are you going to let us have a shot?”

But Patti Jensen, another generational farmer who owns land near the proposed development, urged county leaders to stop or at least slow down a proposal she claimed was “all about money.”

“Nine units per acre,” Jensen said. “Think about that. High-density housing. Who wants that in their community?”

Other concerned unincorporated residents argued allowing the annexation petition to move forward would stifle their voices as unincorporated Salt Lake County residents.

“This is our opportunity,” said Jack Ray, president of the Utah Waterfowl Association, concerned about the impact development would have on sensitive wetlands nearby. “Once it gets out of this council ... our ability to advocate and communicate meaningfully with North Salt Lake City would be severely limited.”

Dorothy Owen, chairwoman of the Westpointe Community Council, also urged the County Council not to allow the annexation to move forward, arguing county leaders should take part in ensuring a “thoughtful, deliberate process” that could perhaps result in a compromise between neighbors and a better-planned project.

“You are the leaders,” she told the council. “We need you to be the crossing guards over the troubled bridge, not the guys in the back of the parade cleaning up all the crap.”

Limon, however, discussed the challenges her family and other farmers like the Drechsels have had, turning to other means to supplement their increasingly infeasible farming operations. They said the development would allow them to continue farming for future generations while also help bring city sewer and water to their properties.

“We feel, as the landowners and farmers, as the ones that have worked so hard and done so much, that we should have the ability to do what we want or what we need to do,” Limon said. “Farming isn’t sustainable out there.”

While neighbors are “up in arms saying, ‘Oh, we love the open space,’” Limon said, “I kind of have to laugh because I’m like, ‘Yeah, it’s beautiful, but I irrigate it and weed it and take care of it and pay to do that, and I lose money every year doing it.’”

LaVal Drechsel in a previous interview with the Deseret News also expressed frustration with the debate, saying he’s not selling for money, but rather so he can “continue my legacy” for his daughter to become a sixth-generation farmer elsewhere. He said his family’s past experience with Salt Lake City has been frustrating, and it would make more sense to annex into North Salt Lake.

“That land is our bank account, just like your 401Ks,” LaVal Drechsel said. “We should have the right to sell our land and not be controlled.”

Airport overlays also complicate matters — making property owners in favor of the development reluctant to seek annexation into Salt Lake City instead of North Salt Lake.

Brady Fredrickson, a senior planner with the Salt Lake City Department of Airports, said the area is not a good fit for high-density development, noting future airport expansion will increase noise and air traffic in the area.

“This is the wrong development in the wrong place,” Fredrickson said.

While three council members, including Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton, voted in favor of advancing the annexation petition, previously arguing it as a private property rights and “local control” issue, six others, including Council Chairman Richard Snelgrove, voted against it, pointing to lack of consensus among neighbors, airport noise overlays and the potential of leading to unincorporated “islands” in that area of the county.

However, Snelgrove wrote in an email sent to people who contacted him regarding the annexation that a nearby area could see “considerable commercial development,” pointing to a project proposed across 2200 West, west of the annexation area, to turn about 440 acres into a business park.

“It is anticipated that the road will be widened as part of this development,” Snelgrove wrote. “Also, the water and sewer lines will be extended to the area so, if the local residents wish to annex to Salt Lake City, they can tie into those systems as well.”

The County Council is expected to vote on the development in November.