Spat erupts over Salt Lake City's Northwest Quadrant
Councilman Luke Garrott had predicted that a master plan envisioning a mini-city west of the Salt Lake City International Airport would illicit a "sh-- storm."
Well, on Tuesday it rained.
Garrott, a progressive councilman and critic of the so-called Northwest Quadrant Master Plan, pilloried Mayor Ralph Becker's chief of staff for failing to explore more environmentally sensitive options.
Why would a mayor who is an environmentalist, conservationist and a planner, Garrott asked during a City Council meeting, support such density? The draft plan includes housing for 70,000 to 100,000 people spread across the brownfields and marshlands between the airport and Oquirrh Mountains.
"You all have stacked the deck," Garrott charged. "Why wouldn't you be investigating a no-build alternative?"
The discussion centered around a $100,000 appropriation Becker wants in his fiscal 2011 budget for additional Northwest Quadrant study. Called before the dais to "defend himself," the mayor insisted developing part of the 19,000-acre parcel or none of it remains part of the analysis. The extra money, he said, would fund a comprehensive public process and more technical study of the master plan.
Becker said his goal is to bring "supplementary ideas" to the council.
But Councilman Soren Simonsen questioned whether such an expense makes financial sense, given the city's budget crunch.
"We're talking about layoffs," he said."We're talking about an impact on core services in the city."
Interjecting, Council Chairman J.T. Martin said "we have landowners [in the Northwest Quadrant] who have every right to develop their property. We cannot let this topic continue to take over every meeting, every night."
"This is not another small budget item," Garrott countered. "Please don't pooh-pooh the issue."
"I'm not, sir," Martin snapped back. "Can we move on? Can we move on?"
The bulk of the Northwest Quadrant's developable land is owned by the LDS Church. The Utah-based faith's development arm is working with the city on an arrangement to fund the cleanup of a toxic landfill, which would be necessary before any construction could happen.
Becker heralds the master plan's stellar "environmental science," though questions persist about flies, tailings dust and whether trees or vegetation would be possible on the alkaline mud. The mayor says he will continue to review the blueprint before making a recommendation to the council, perhaps later this year.
During a break Tuesday evening, Becker Chief of Staff David Everitt ambled over to the dais and asked if the parties had taken their "chill pill." Garrott wasn't in the room.
Later, as the council's briefing on the finance department ended sooner than anticipated, Martin suggested a new topic.
"Oh, I don't know, why don't we have a really nice discussion on the Northwest Quadrant," he joked. Each council member laughed, except Garrott, who sat stone-faced.