SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake County Council approved the controversial Olympia Hills development Tuesday with a 6-3 vote.
The decision matches the council’s preliminary vote last week, where council members Aimee Winder Newton, Steve DeBry and Richard Snelgrove voted against the housing proposal. The campaign to densely develop the area has stirred up concerned residents, including those who arrived at the county government building in protest Tuesday wearing red T-shirts with “#OHNO” printed on the back.
The Olympia Hills development would bring 6,300 housing units to 933 acres in west Herriman, with contemporary housing, neighborhood parks, commercial centers and a 100-acre Utah State University agricultural center.
After the vote, Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson, in a written statement, said she would not veto the proposal.
“After months and months of negotiations between the developer and county planning staff, I believe this proposal is as strong as it can be,” she said.
Wilson said the alternative to the Olympia Hills project would result in continued sprawl and a “negative impact on quality of life.”
But residents and government officials in the southwest corner of the county have opposed the development at almost every step of the process.
Before the vote and during the public comment portion of the County Council meeting, Murray resident Lawrence Horman’s concerns mirrored those of other Herriman residents, and he asked the councilmembers to postpone the project.
“My suggestion to the council is if you don’t want to stop the development completely — slow it down,” he said. “It would help out. It would make a difference.”
Many residents don’t want to bring such a dense community to a part of the valley already experiencing explosive growth. As Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs pointed out to the County Council in January, a 2008 Salt Lake County development plan recommended three to five housing units per acre in Herriman — Olympia Hills would have almost seven units per acre.
In previous meeting, residents shared fears the development could flood the area’s already crowded roads, worsening traffic that currently plagues Herriman, Riverton, South Jordan and other surrounding towns.
Wearing a red T-shirt, Lisa Brown, of Herriman, also asked the council to table the vote in hopes residents and city leaders could reach a compromise.
“What we heard from the six of you that voted in favor of this project were arguments kind of telling us that you don’t really see the big picture. We are not against master plan communities,” she said. “The impact of the number of homes is at the heart of the issue. Because it creates such a ripple effect in so many other areas.”
DeBry told those in the room, “I live out there, my family lives smack-dab in the middle of where we’re talking about. Nobody else up here right now can say that. The issues that have been raised here is real, they are genuine.”
The councilman then motioned for the council to table the vote, which failed 3-6.
But in support of Olympia Hills, Councilman Jim Bradley reminded residents at January’s meeting the development could take up to 30 years to finish.
Before County Council Chairman Max Burdick motioned to vote on the development, he said he appreciated the attendance and comments about the issue.
“There isn’t anyone on this council that I don’t have respect for regardless of how they vote,” he said.
Real estate agent Nigel Swaby, a proponent for the project, urged the council to approve the development, saying Olympia Hills would benefit the community and help with the state’s housing shortage.
“Every year we have 80,000 people coming into the state, that’s not counting the birthrate. We have a housing shortage,” he said. “It’s a smart housing project with mixed use.”
Not passing the Olympia Hills project would “waste” the 933 acres allotted to the development, according to Swaby.
“When an opportunity like this comes I would urge you to take it,” he said.
Other council members, like Shireen Ghorbani and Arlyn Bradshaw, pointed out that the application has been substantially scaled back since it was originally proposed in 2018.
In 2018, the development came to a halt when, while serving as county mayor, Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, vetoed the proposal after it was approved by the County Council. Now, two years later, county residents are hoping the congressman can come to their rescue once again.
On Monday, several Utah Republicans sent McAdams a letter pleading him to use his “political influence” to convince Wilson to veto the development.
“I vetoed the Olympia Hills development proposal when I was county mayor out of concerns I had about the proposal,” McAdams said in a statement to the Deseret News earlier this week. “My opinion hasn’t changed. I’m still opposed.”
Herriman City Councilwoman Sherrie Ohrn said she was “disappointed, but not surprised” by the County Council’s vote.
She said there’s a referendum kickoff scheduled at Mountain Ridge High School in Herriman Wednesday at 7 p.m.
“Unfortunately, that’s the path we have to go, and I don’t think that that’s the path we should always take. But there comes a point where the people feel they have to be listened to by their representatives and they are left with no choice.”