In an era of cynicism and distrust of the “establishment,” Utah citizens ought to be pleased with the leaders who have been appointed to direct the visioning and initial planning work related to development of the Point of the Mountain area, including the 700 acres where the Utah State Prison is currently located.
Almost immediately after the idea of moving the prison was broached, some citizens and groups expressed concern that cronyism and conflicts-of-interest would arise, with wealthy insiders exploiting the opportunities of development in the area.
However, it’s clear to me that the Legislature and the governor want a completely transparent, fair and open approach to all of the issues related to what’s now called the Point of the Mountain Project. That’s reflected in the people appointed to the commission overseeing planning for the project. Ten of the 14 commission members are elected officials, directly answerable to taxpayers. The other four are individuals with broad experience in the public and private sectors.
What’s more, Rep. Brad Wilson, House majority assistant whip and the commission co-chair, told me the commission’s first big job is to listen carefully to all stakeholders to hear views about how the area should be developed.
“We will listen to everyone who has an opinion,” Wilson said. Stakeholders include residents of affected cities, commuters who travel through the area, environmental advocates, smart development advocates, people who love to walk and bike, current landowners, business owners, city leaders, county leaders, various taxing districts, education leaders, transportation agencies, developers, economic development officials, etc.
And listening won’t just mean a few public hearings. The commission will seek to engage all stakeholders in meaningful ways, with plenty of opportunities to recommend ideas, respond to various scenarios, and monitor every step of the process. The commission will use the news media, social media, surveys, canvassing, newsletters, websites, mobile apps, etc., to encourage participation.
It will be done in an organized way, using the best outreach practices to involve all citizens and interest groups.
“I’m sure we won’t be able to avoid all controversy,” Wilson said. “But my big goal is to create a shared vision. That will be difficult because there are many agendas and objectives among all the stakeholders. But I hope we can look above the clouds and see the exciting potential of this project.”
Wilson said it is important to move relatively quickly on the commission work plan, because the region is growing rapidly. But it’s more important to be thoughtful. “We only have one opportunity to do this, so we must do it right,” Wilson said. “This is critical to the future of the entire state.”
The area of focus includes the rapidly growing high-tech corridor straddling North Utah County and South Salt Lake County. Envision Utah estimates that some 20,000 acres in the region could be developed.
Wilson considers the opportunity, sparked by the state’s plan to move the state prison to an area west of the Salt Lake International Airport, “unusual and unique. Only once in a generation do we have a chance like this.” He’d like to see the region become a show piece for Utah, a place where national and international companies would like to locate, an area that is environmentally friendly, that offers high-paid jobs, that provides a great quality of life with open space, walking and biking trails, shared community facilities, and easy public transit connections.
Transportation planning will be critically important because the region’s transportation systems are already stressed. The narrow neck of land between Utah and Salt Lake counties could become a transportation bottleneck, a real nightmare, if not done properly.
Put very simply, Wilson said, the commission’s task is to create a shared vision for the area, determine what infrastructure is required to make the vision a reality, and recommend how the infrastructure might be financed.
He expects the commission to begin meeting within a few weeks.
Commission members include state representatives Wilson and Dean Sanpei; senators Jerry Stevenson and Lincoln Fillmore; mayors Ben McAdams (Salt Lake County), Tom Dolan (Sandy), Troy Walker (Draper), and Bert Wilson (Lehi); Utah County Commissioner Larry Ellertson; David Crandall from the State School Board; Christopher Conabee (board member) and Theresa Foxley from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development; Jonathan Francom, from Adobe; and Jeff Edwards, president of the Economic Development Corporation of Utah.