Vineyard’s new urbanist downtown to use new TIF tool for housing near transit

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There’s no doubt that Utah is growing rapidly. But the 2020 US Census revealed that one Utah community eclipsed the growth of all others in America. Vineyard, UT was named for the grapes that once grew nearby. However, for almost six decades, the town’s major feature was Geneva Steel, which operated from 1944 to 2001.

Last week I traveled south to Vineyard to attend an event sponsored by the Utah Chapter of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) on transit-oriented development. Having not owned a car for the past 6.5 years, I rode FrontRunner with my ebike. 

Taking my ebike was critical, because it would allow me to traverse the 1.5 miles between Vineyard’s FrontRunner station and the Topgolf that hosted the ULI Utah event in a mere six minutes instead of a half hour on foot. The temperature also happened to be in the high 90s that day and that 1.5-mile route is treeless and devoid of shade. 

As icing on the proverbial cake, the irony was not lost on me that I was perhaps the only attendee to use transit to arrive at an event extolling the values of transit-oriented development.

Vineyard’s story and vision

Incorporated in 1989, Vineyard’s population hovered just above 100 residents for more than two decades. The closure of Geneva Steel cleared the way for a massive redevelopment along the eastern shore of Utah Lake. Between the 2010 and 2020 censuses, Vineyard exploded from 110 to 12,543 residents. 

By growing more than 100 times its original size, Vineyard ranked as the fastest growing city in the nation (in terms of percentage) in the 2020 Census.

Images courtesy Vineyard City. Photo is a view from the Vineyard FrontRunner station of the future site of “Utah City”—Vineyard’s future high-density, walkable downtown.

The context of Vineyard’s Topgolf stands in stark contrast with the plans for its future development. It lies among stereotypical suburban commercial development featuring fast food restaurants and a movie theater within a sea of parking. The road that gets you there lacks adequate sidewalks and bicycling facilities. 

Fortunately, Topgolf does feature ample bike parking. However, my ebike might have been lonely left there with no company.

The view looking east across Topgolf’s driving range of Mount Timpanogos | Mike Christensen for Building Salt Lake

Vineyard’s vision is to embrace transit-oriented development. Even prior to opening its southern FrontRunner extension to Provo in 2012, the Utah Transit Authority was already aware of the development potential of the former Geneva Steel site and anticipated opening a station there in the near future. That FrontRunner station opened less than a year ago on August 12, 2022.

As the highlight of the event, ULI Utah assembled a panel of transit-oriented development rockstars. Peter Evans, Principal of Flagship Homes, spoke extensively about the need to change our development pattern given that urban sprawl costs the US economy more than $1 trillion per year in excess infrastructure costs. Evans continued by pointing out that Utahns spend millions of dollars each year traveling in order to experience walkable places throughout the world. 

Beth Holbrook, Trustee of the Utah Transit Authority, highlighted the need for our planning vision to reach beyond just transit-oriented development in order to achieve truly transit-oriented communities. 

Michelle Carrol, Executive Director of the Mountainland Association of Governments, related details about the MPO’s efforts to seek federal RAISE Grants that would provide funding for bike trails connecting to transit throughout Utah County. 

And Mayor Julie Fullmer of Vineyard spoke about Vineyard’s efforts to utilize transit-oriented development and increased density to cut inefficiencies so residents and families can expect more amenities in Vineyard.

ULI Utah panel participants: (left to right) Julie Fullmer, Mayor of Vineyard; Peter Evans, Principal, Flagship Homes; Michelle Carrol, Executive Director, Mountainland Association of Governments; and Beth Holbrook, Trustee, Utah Transit Authority | Mike Christensen for Building Salt Lake

What’s a HTRZ?

The underlying framework that will fund the future development at the Vineyard FrontRunner station is provided by SB217, which was passed by the Utah Legislature during the 2021 General Session. The bill creates a provision for the creation of Housing and Transit Reinvestment Zones, or HRTZs.

An HRTZ functions similar to a Tax Increment Financing area, where property tax recipients agree to forego the increment in tax revenue generated by redevelopment for a fixed period of time. That increase in revenue is used to fund the improvements and infrastructure that will induce the redevelopment. The willingness of property tax recipients to forego the increased revenue for the promise of greatly-increased tax revenue in the future.

A simple explanation of Tax Increment Financing courtesy of CivicLab.us.

In December 2022, the Vineyard HRTZ was approved by the State of Utah. The 300+ acre development will be named “Utah City” and will serve as Vineyard’s downtown. 

For the planning of Utah City, Vineyard assembled a dream team of consultants, which included world-renowned walkability expert Jeff Speck and new urbanist powerhouse firm DPZ. The goal is to create not just transit-oriented development but a transit-oriented community that is anchored by the FrontRunner station and is designed to be walkable with the goal of eliminating the need for residents to own a car.

World-renowned walkability expert Jeff Speck speaks at the opening of the Vineyard FrontRunner station on August 12, 2022 | Mike Christensen for Building Salt Lake

While Vineyard might not currently be the poster child for a transit-oriented community, the city has gathered the experts necessary and made plans that will put Vineyard on track to continue to grow into a transit-oriented community. Let’s hope those plans never get derailed.

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Posted by Mike Christensen

Mike Christensen recently graduated from the University of Utah with a Master of City and Metropolitan Planning, is employed as the Executive Director of the Utah Rail Passengers Association, and serves on the Board of Directors of the national Rail Passengers Association.