Community connections needed, not commercial development say Hillside Plaza resident groupNov 01, 2022 07:02PM ● By Cassie Goff
Residents would love to see walkable connections into the neighborhoods from Hillside Plaza. (Photo courtesy of Randy Whitehead/Hillside Neighborhood Resident Group)
By Cassie Goff | [email protected]
On Feb. 15, potential development plans for Hillside Plaza (approximately 2378 Fort Union Blvd.) within Cottonwood Heights were presented by Wright Development Group during a neighborhood meeting for surrounding residents. The attendance was rather unexpected. Over 90 residents arrived with significant interest in the future of the area and a resident group began to emerge.
Now, the Hillside Neighborhood Resident Group is comprised of over 185 residents. Their main objective is to share perspective about the development of Hillside Plaza and what could possibly be done with that area.
“We are a group of residents that got together because one of the developers told us they would be putting in high-density and we’d have to fight the city council in order to not get (high-density),” said spokesperson Randy Whitehead.
“Hillside Plaza is not very busy,” Whitehead said. “Rite Aid, Reams, and Planet Fitness used to be there. Today, there is a Dollar Tree.”
The resident group has met regularly at city hall to discuss the future of the Hillside Plaza area. They have formed committees, attended city council meetings, reviewed city planning and zoning documents, met with the Cottonwood Heights Planning and Economic staff members, and brought in experts to learn more about Utah’s land use laws.
“We are willing to roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty to make a difference,” Whitehead said.
The resident group began hosting brainstorming sessions where everyone’s ideas for the future of Hillside Plaza could be shared. Residents suggested ideas included farmers markets, community and rooftop gardens, art studios, hardware shops, pickleball courts, underground parking, and an intermodal hub.
Then, each resident prioritized those ideas by picking three of most importance from the exhaustive list. The major preferences among the resident group overall were to include local shops and restaurants to Hillside Plaza in order to provide more of a town or community center.
“It could become a destination in the city for people to walk through. It would be a total transformation,” Whitehead said.
Thirty-one percent of the resident group was in favor of local shops and restaurants to be developed within the area; 18% expressed wanting green gathering spaces and walking paths; 15% would like to see a small (or boutique) grocery store; 11% hoped to visit a community and performing arts center; and 10% was in favor of outdoor performance spaces.
“They would like to see some way of performing arts, either indoor or outdoor,” Whitehead said. “Multiuse spaces for arts and recreation—those just resonated over and over.”
Consensus among the resident group was that the design for the area is crucial. Walkable paths and transitions into the neighborhoods must be incorporated into the development designs.
“Everyone is concerned about green spaces and walking paths,” Whitehead said.
The resident group studied three main resources to guide their discussions and development suggestions including the Cottonwood Heights General Plan, Fort Union Boulevard Master Plan, and the recently conducted Y2 Analytics survey. Whitehead mentioned that Mayor Mike Weichers has been helpful as well.
“As our group has come together and studied these issues, my perception of the city has changed. I am in awe of how much the city has actually done,” Whitehead said.
Weichers expressed his preference for the area to serve a city and community purpose, not a commercial purpose. “A public purpose cannot come to pass if it’s left to commercial interests,” he said.
“The Hillside Plaza redevelopment presents a unique opportunity for current decision makers to leave a lasting legacy and impact on the City of Cottonwood Heights,” Whitehead said. “I believe that a city center concept could be the anchor for development up and down the Fort Union corridor and set the tone.”