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Sandy sidetracks controversial development on UTA land

First Published      Updated 1 hour ago

(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Developer Jeff Vitek speaks to the Sandy City Council for approval of rezoning a project near a TRAX station, a joint-project with UTA Tuesday November 10, 2015.

Sandy • The city council decided Tuesday to sidetrack, for now, a rezoning proposal that would allow a controversial townhome project on surplus Utah Transit Authority land.

After three hours of debate in a chamber packed with scores of neighbors opposing the project, the council voted 5-2 to table the proposal indefinitely to allow more study about its possible effects on traffic and safety.

A parade of neighbors testified that the project would worsen already nightmarish traffic in their area, and that the proposed development is too dense and too near their existing single-family homes.

Developer Jeffrey Vitek's Boulder Ventures — involved in other controversial projects with UTA in Draper and West Jordan — proposes to build 186 townhomes on 19 acres of land now owned by UTA, but on which he has a purchase contract.

The project would be on an irregular, long triangular parcel between 102nd and 106th South, and between UTA's Blue Line TRAX and the East Jordan Canal.

Vitek said that to obtain rezoning, the city is requiring him to extend a portion of Beetdigger Boulevard from 102nd to 106th South, build several public trails and a tunnel, and bury a portion of the East Jordan Canal to help the area connect to Dimple Dell Regional Park and to the Sandy Civic Center TRAX station.

He said the only way to afford that is by building a high-density project, not single-family homes as neighbors suggest. He originally sought even higher density, but said he scaled back as a compromise. Sandy city, he noted, has approved many more-dense apartment projects recently within a two-mile radius.

"We've done everything we can to try to accommodate all that faces us, and will — if approved — do our very best to be good neighbors," Vitek told the council.

Neighbors said plans would bring more traffic to already overloaded 102nd and 106th South and surrounding neighborhoods — and said exiting and entering those streets already requires long waits and brings plenty of accidents and near-misses.

"I get religion every time I enter that street," resident Jim Duffin said about 106th South.

Newly re-elected council member Chris McCandless said the townhome project might actually help traffic because of improvements it would bring that the city could not otherwise afford. He said townhomes also may cover less of the area with buildings than single-family homes would, and would interfere less with neighbors' views.

McCandless, a developer, said the council needs more firm information about what would happen to traffic, with or without the project. The council approved putting the rezoning application on hold until Vitek's engineers and city staff complete such studies.

Meanwhile, Council Chairman Stephen Smith said, "We have put a burden on the developer that is unfair" for all the improvements the city seeks, and for forcing the higher-density development to pay for it. "Frankly, it's unconscionable."

Steve Meyer, UTA's chief capital development officer, told the council that UTA hopes to use proceeds from sale of the property to fund construction of a garage at the nearby Civic Center TRAX Station — and said the project would help the city by putting now tax-exempt land back on property tax rolls.

Meyer told The Tribune that Vitek's company was the highest bidder for the UTA land, which had been acquired for construction of the adjacent TRAX line — but has since been deemed surplus. He could not immediately provide the bid amount.

Previous UTA deals with Vitek and his Boulder Ventures were criticized in a 2014 legislative audit. Auditors said UTA appeared to be "acting as a banker for the developer" by providing a huge advance in one deal and, in another, may have awarded him a bid unfairly and then granted him a too-generous contract.

The audit said UTA prepaid Vitek $10 million to construct a garage in Draper that he never built. At the time of the report, released last August, auditors said UTA had not been repaid all the money. UTA, however, said the deal had actually made money for the agency.






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