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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Plans for future growth within Cottonwood Heights are in the works

Oct 01, 2022 06:13PM ● By Cassie Goff

The Big Cottonwood Canyon Mouth activity center should be a complement to the Gravel Pit center long term. (Photo courtesy of General Plan Working Draft/Cottonwood Heights)

By Cassie Goff | [email protected]

The City of Cottonwood Heights has been working to develop a new General Plan document. The last time future visioning for the city was documented was in 2005, so the city council determined it was time to update the document. A General Plan document outlines a broad vision for the future of the community it serves.

“A general plan is an overarching visioning document,” said Community and Economic Development Director Mike Johnson. “It’s a tool city leaders can use to make decisions about the city.” 

The State of Utah requires all municipalities to have a general plan document outlining plans related to elements of transportation, water use, and moderate-income housing, at the very least. The Cottonwood Heights General Plan will also include plans related to land use, sustainability, and parks, trails, and open space.

Preparing a new or updated general plan document is a lengthy and involved process. Members of the Cottonwood Heights planning staff begin reviewing all current plans and recommendations for the city in early 2021. Then, they met with various focus groups and city committees for their input. Once feedback was incorporated into the drafted materials, information was shared over social media within the Cottonwood Heights Tomorrow planning project. On March 8, 2022, an open house was held with residents to gather public input where four different visions for the city emerged.

On July 20, members of the Planning Commission and City Council discussed their vision for the city in relation to the public comment.  

“We need to temper listening with the important gift of foresight. We need to not be paralyzed by the fear of upsetting the residents,” said Commissioner Dan Mills.

Johnson shared with the group that about 85% of the public feedback collected previously related to land use and housing. This opened an important conversation related to growth and development, especially as it related to housing affordability and accessibility within the city. All city leaders agreed that they need to be focused on smart and sustainable growth.

“Utah is growing. According to the 2020 Census, we are the fastest growing state,” Johnson said. “The population will double by 2040 or 2050.”

“The city will die if we do not include any more growth,” said Councilmember Doug Peterson.

“How do we grow with neighborhoods who don’t want five-story buildings right next to them? The purpose is to maintain Cottonwood Heights as a suburb and not an urban extension of Salt Lake. We want to maintain the community we live in while at the same time looking for sustainable growth,” said Mayor Mike Weichers.

“We have to get over being change-averse,” Mills said. “Some of us are going to have to sacrifice some uncomfortableness for the greater good.”

Within Cottonwood Heights, the 2020 Census identified 7,329 members of the population being under 18 years old. In addition, 52,000 students are educated within the city between all the elementary schools, Butler Middle School and Brighton High School.

“We should plan for the kids who are here today,” Johnson said. “It’s important to plan for future generations to be able to live here. We don’t want all our kids to grow up and have to move out.”

Many commissioners and councilmembers mentioned how affordability in housing and rental costs was a concern.

“The affordability of people entering the housing market is important to me. We need to focus on smart, intentional growth that preserves the community for future generations,” said Commission Jessica Chappell.

“I am concerned about the health of the community. The idea that you can’t find any place to live in Cottonwood Heights as a new college graduate is a tragedy,” Mills echoed. 

“A three bedroom or four bedroom is $2,700 per month. That’s more than my mortgage,” said Commissioner Sean Steinmann.

Peterson commented that density has not allowed for upward mobility. He mentioned how “affordable” homes go for $2,300 per month within the city.

The State of Utah tasks municipalities to accommodate for all housing types within their communities but allows for individual leadership to determine what that looks like for them.

“The ‘how’ is up to us,” Johnson elaborated.  

“Cities are required to plan for future growth for all,” said Commissioner Jonathan Ebbeler. “Mixed-use has to make sense as an overall strategy. The highest cost to the city is single-family homes and the lowest cost to the city is mixed-use.”

“We are talking about the concept of how we can take care of people in the middle. The missing middle. What if there’s one or two things that we can sprinkle throughout our city,” Mills said.

The Cottonwood Heights planning staff narrowed in on two possible scenarios based on differentiating visions for incorporating growth and housing into the city for the future. These scenarios were based on public input from residents suggesting ideas for town centers, transportation, and parks, trails, and open spaces.

“Scenario one would focus on appropriate redevelopment within key city center areas. It would allow for the creation of a town center, which we have heard loud and clear as a community value,” Johnson said.

This scenario would focus on placing higher density in areas such as the gravel pit and properties along the Fort Union Boulevard corridor, where development wouldn’t impact current residents.

“Scenario two spreads the growth out even more so it’s a less of an impact on any one place in the city,” Johnson said.

This scenario focuses on maintaining the vibrance of single-family neighborhoods by looking at pocket areas for growth. Examples of pocket growth would include areas along Park Center Drive, Bengal Boulevard, and within the Old Mill community. This allows growth and development to be considered district by district.

“If development is done right, you can do it without disrupting single-family areas,” said Johnson.

“Both of these scenarios are based on adding 11,000 additional households within the next 28 years. That affects sustainability and transportation. We currently have approximately 12,000 households in Cottonwood Heights,” said Councilmember Ellen Birrell. 

“No one here wants to see double the growth,” said Peterson. “We could tax ourselves out of our homes.”

“ADUs are allowed in every single housing area,” Johnson reminded the city leaders of the decision set forth by the Utah State Legislature. “It’s a tool we can use to provide housing. If done right, we can do that without disrupting single-family areas.”

Ebbeler suggested looking at the 10 basic guidelines for smart growth set forth by United Smart Cities (USC) including: creating a range of housing opportunities, creating walkable communities, reserving open space and critical environment areas, directing development toward existing communities, providing a range of transportation choices, and making development choices predictable, fair and cost effective.

After hours of discussion, Johnson took the group’s feedback to the planning staff to start preparing early materials for a drafted general plan document. He hopes to get those early materials in front of the planning commission as soon as possible. Then, the commissioners will discuss the plan for as many meetings as needed before making a recommendation to the city council. The council hopes to take public comment on the General Plan early in 2023 before making a final decision before summer of 2023.

“We are tentatively thinking about hosting four different district-related town hall meetings,” Johnson said.

Mills cautioned Johnson to prepare specific options for residents before hosting those town hall meetings. “It’s like your kids. You tell them you get ‘this’ or ‘that’ and they’ll say they want ice cream for dinner. Well, that wasn’t one of your choices.”

“Can we call them the ‘No Ice Cream for Dinner Town Halls?’” laughed Birrell.

In addition to the town halls and public comment sessions, Johnson will be accounting for alternative means for participation from residents. Notices will be sent out through various channels, including the city’s newsletter and social media channels, for further public input to be collected.

“Public input is critical to the success of any general plan. We’ve been trying to listen very closely,” Johnson said. “We keep track of and review all the public comments and are doing our best to incorporate those. They are thoughtful comments, and we appreciate everyone’s input in sharing those.”

To view all information regarding the Cottonwood Heights General Plan (including verbatim previous public comments, previous planning documents, and tentative timelines): visit the city’s Cottonwood Heights Tomorrow page under the “City Services” tab on the city’s website (