Panel: Collaboration will be key to manage population growth

The Daybreak community is a master-planned community that encourages walkability by building amenities within close proximity to residences. Photo by flickr user Photo Dean.
The Daybreak community is a master-planned community that encourages walkability by building amenities within close proximity to residences. Photo by Flickr user Photo Dean.

Utah is growing older and more diverse.  While the state still has the youngest median age in the country, Utah’s families are getting smaller, its residents are living longer and are more racially, culturally, economically and religiously diverse.

According to local officials from both the public and private sectors, developers and public officials will need to work together through planning, updated zoning and investments in public transportation to manage the expected population growth along the Wasatch Front.

Utah’s changing demographics and increasing demand for vibrant, urban living were highlighted during the annual Trends Conference hosted Thursday in Park City by the Utah Chapter of the Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit organization that advocates for responsible land use.  The conference looks at  expected local housing and economic trends for the following year.

“We need to collaborate, bring folks together to share best practices between the public and private sectors,” said Andrew Gruber, the executive director of the Wasatch Front Regional Council.

Gruber led a panel of representatives from the public and private sectors looking at encouraging smart density and quality neighborhoods along the Wasatch Front as the population continues to grow.

The Wasatch Front is expected to welcome 1.5 million new residents by 2050.  Because of the region’s geographic limitations, city’s will need to build up instead of out.

“We need to continue to expect that the types of housing that people are going to want in the future are going to be different,” said Ty McCutcheon, the president and CEO of Daybreak Communities in South Jordan.  

McCutcheon’s Daybreak community offers a look into what the region’s future suburban developments could be like in the next few decades.   Daybreak features a mix of housing sizes in planned neighborhoods that focus on walkability with access to public transit.  According to McCutcheon, the average single family home lot size in Daybreak is just 1/8 acres.  An increasing number of residents want to live in more walkable, vibrant neighborhoods while still living in single family homes. The CEO argued that the smaller lot sizes allow for residents to still have the single family home but in walkable neighborhoods.  

“It is a paradigm shift  in how we build over time,” said McCutcheon.  “(But) we need the support of the public sector through zoning and public infrastructure.”

The panelists attributed changing retail patterns that are moving away from brick and mortar stores to an increased dependence on residential property tax.  Cities like Salt Lake are looking to impact fees to ensure that infrastructure is maintained to accommodate growth, but the panelists argue that smaller lot size will also be necessary to balance tax revenue, growth and the local preference for single family homes.

While the suburbs look to reduce lot sizes, in Salt Lake and Sandy officials are looking at infill projects as a way to increase density.  Over a third of the multifamily units under construction along the Wasatch Front are in Salt Lake City.  There are over 3,000 multifamily units under construction and another 3,000 in development.  The influx of new residential units has created tension between developers and residents.

Mike Florence, the community and economic development director of South Salt Lake suggested that cities will produce better and more appropriate development by focusing on design instead of density. Florence credited the cities adoption of a form-based zoning code along portions of the S-Line streetcar as the reason for the city’s resurgence in development, predominantly along the S-Line.  The city is adding hundreds of new multifamily units after nearly three decades of zero growth in multifamily development.

Form-based zoning focuses more on the design and scale of a project instead of the density and usage requirements found in more traditional zoning.

“The denser and more intelligent the design the more money that goes to the city,” said Micah Peters, the CEO of Clearwater Homes.

Peters argued that cities like Salt Lake need to encourage projects with good design that are built with for the community with a mix of units that encourage diversity and built around community-style centers that encourage residents to interact with each other.

“If we are trying to build smart communities, the people you bring in need to represent the mix in that community,” said Peters.

Salt Lake City has four areas in the city the feature form-based zoning, all of which are in close proximity to rail transit.  The Central Ninth neighborhood was the first neighborhood in the city to feature a form-based code.  While form-based code encourages density, in the Central Ninth neighborhood most of the new and proposed developments have been mid-density projects with a mix of two to three-story townhomes and four-story multifamily buildings.

In June the Salt Lake City Council adopted the Sugar House Streetcar Corridor Master Plan which created three new form-based zones for properties along the S-Line streetcar and greenway.

On Wednesday, the Salt Lake City Planning Commission voted for the second time to forward a favorable recommendation to the city council to approve the rezone of several parcels directly south of Trolley Square on the 600 South block of 600 East to FB-UN2 (Form Based Urban Neighborhood District), the same zoning found in the Central Ninth neighborhood.

Residents have been reluctant to embrace form-based code.   Both the Sugar House rezone and the proposed rezone of the Trolley Square parcels received significant opposition from residents.

The panelists suggested that as population growth continues, many communities will need to find a way to incorporate density to accommodate that growth without encouraging further suburban sprawl.

“Some of the backlash to density is on us (the developers) for not always building quality attractive products,” said McCutcheon.  “It will take political will but we need to continue to invest in our public infrastructure and plan ahead.”

Posted by Isaac Riddle

Isaac Riddle grew up just outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. He has a BA in English literature from the University of Utah and a Masters of Journalism from Temple University. Isaac has written for Next City, The Philadelphia Public School Notebook and Salt Lake City Weekly. Before embarking on a career in journalism, Isaac taught High School English in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. Isaac is the founder of Building Salt Lake and can be reached at