When my family decided to make the move to Tooele almost 17 years ago, we were teased a lot by family in other areas of Utah about our choice. Tooele? Why Tooele? When I have been down to visit family in those other cities, and we are coming around the point of the mountain into our valley, I feel myself relax and a sense of peace come over me. I see the lights of Tooele up on the bench and it feels good to be home.
In case you haven’t noticed, tremendous growth is happening in our hometown. Growth can be exciting and fun. We wonder what new stores and restaurants will be included in this change. However, with this growth comes a huge responsibility for our city leaders as they approve or disapprove plans and designs from developers.
After this huge boom of building is over, what will Tooele look like? Will we still have a wonderful community with parks and neighborhoods that are warm and welcoming? Or will we let the developers determine the fate of Tooele’s future?
In the past it made sense that our leaders were happy to welcome any builders we could get. With the long recession, not much development taking place, it makes sense that any new building would be warmly welcomed.
What I hope our City Council members understand now is they can be selective. In a building boom, they now have the upper hand. They can mold and develop our city — make it a thing of beauty, rather than developers’ dream of wall-to-wall housing.
One example of this is happening in my neighborhood. There are multiple builders either filling in empty lots or creating great big new areas of development.
In Overlake we have developers on the south and east who have already been approved to put in 356 new homes on 270 acres. As this was happening, I asked if any parks were included in the plan. The answer I received was no.
We currently have a builder who is trying to get zoning changed on 58 acres of land that he purchased in our neighborhood. On these 58 acres, he proposes to put 611 units — on acreage almost 1/5 the size the other developers who are putting in 356 homes. That’s wall-to-wall high-density housing on stamp-sized lots, which is just too much in too little space.
When the company purchased these 58 acres, they knew they were purchasing R1-7 housing, which means medium-density housing, NOT high-density. Originally this 58-acre lot was supposed to become a park. I realize because of the lawsuit between the original Overlake developers and the city that a park will never go in there. At the end of the lawsuit, the property was deeded back to the original developers and eventually sold.
I have heard the argument that builders should be able to develop their land any way they want and make use of the space they have purchased however they please. This is an unwise idea. When a developer buys property zoned for a particular use, they should not get to dictate an alternative use any more than I should be able to turn my lot in Overlake into a gas station or a corner market.
In Overlake, we somewhat jokingly comment on feeling like the step-children of Tooele. In the tug-of-war of the lawsuit between the city and Drew Hall, even though the residents were not involved, a lot of resentment developed toward our area of town. What I hope the community and leadership of Tooele realize is we lost in that battle as well. Many things we were promised will never happen, but we have an invested interest in Tooele, not just financially, but emotionally. Many of us are here for the long haul. We care what Tooele looks like in the future because it is our home.
I truly hope our city leaders will realize the huge responsibility that they have in molding our future community. Please consider those of us who are here to stay. We have voted for you, trusting you will take good care of our city. Remember the important things that will make us all want to come around the point of the mountain and look up to the lights on the Tooele bench and feel happy to be home.
Kari Scribner is a freelance writer with a bachelor’s in communications from Brigham Young University. She is a 17-year resident of Tooele and active in her neighborhood and community.