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West Valley City Journal

Highbury mobilization leads to townhome denial

Jun 29, 2018 03:56PM ● By Travis Barton

A row of parked cars spilled over from Pinnacle Apartments line Highbury Parkway. The cars are lined up next to a property where a proposal for 153 townhomes was denied. (Travis Barton/City Journals)

By Travis Barton | [email protected] 

After two months, multiple meetings, countless discussions and a unanimous vote, 153 townhomes will not be coming to the empty parcel of almost 13-acre land at 5332 West Highbury Parkway. 

Both the West Valley Planning Commission and the West Valley City Council voted unanimously to deny a proposal from Garbett Homes that would have tripled the density from the property’s current designation of three to four units an acre. 

The denial by the council in June comes two months after a group of residents from the adjacent Highbury neighborhood mobilized to voice their opposition to the proposed development, down the street from Neil Armstrong Academy. 

Residents spoke at several city council meetings starting in April and then throughout May and June condemning the project as too dense. They cited issues stemming from nearby Pinnacle Apartments—which they opposed several years ago when it was built—such as parking and crime that would only increase with further density. Sight lines and accidents were cited as issues along what they deemed already crowded streets with cars parked on both sides of Highbury Parkway. 

Paul Garbett of Garbett Homes, in his public comments to both the planning commission and the city council, focused on the high-energy efficiency of their homes highlighting a HERS score—a metric of how green a home is built—that is twice as low as other builders. He said a third party independently tests and certifies each home.. Garbett Homes has also won awards for its sustainability practices and energy efficient innovations, according to Paul Garbett. 

“We are the most energy efficient in the state of Utah,” he told the council saying they were building homes “for 2032.” 

Councilmember Lars Nordfelt said Garbett’s plan was “a great idea.” 

“The high-efficiency homes—I hope we can find a way to make that work, but this is not the right place for higher density.” 

Solar would have been included in every home, and a boat dock would be constructed next to the canal for residents to canoe. Developers attempted to mitigate the parking issue by increasing parking to 3.5 spaces per unit. But residents felt it wouldn’t make a difference to what is already happening. 

“(Garbett Homes) will already have a parking problem before even doing anything,” said Highbury resident Darren Blanchard before later adding, “If (the development) is twice as better and then double the amount of people, that’s a net zero. There’s no benefit for the city.” 

Blanchard said the residents weren’t “opposed to energy efficiency; we’re opposed to multi family.” Various residents expressed trust in Garbett Homes as builders but would like to see them put in single-family homes rather than townhomes. 

The same energy efficiency standards could still apply to single family homes, Paul Garbett said, but the city’s current zoning and housing standards are “very restrictive” and felt the “market would not support it.” 

City leaders have identified higher-value homes as a priority to diversify housing within the city. It’s also meant to give residents who outgrow their smaller homes a way to stay in the city. 

Matt Macpherson, president of the Highbury neighborhood’s HOA, said he’s heard of families moving out of WVC due to a lack of larger homes. While quick to say he was not a builder, Macpherson felt the housing standards were not too strict. 

Serving as the de facto leader for Highbury’s opposition, Macpherson said the neighborhood began to mobilize after the problems persisted with Pinnacle Apartments. 

“Garbett can thank Pinnacle for this,” he told the West Valley Journal.

Nordfelt commended the residents for their organization. “You’ve shown us what a great neighborhood you have by your participation in this discussion and this proposal,” he said. 

But for Macpherson, this problem is only the beginning. With the undeveloped land and apartments and townhomes nearby, he expects this battle to be repeated. 

“This may be a fight we will fight, hopefully successfully, in the future,” Macpherson said. “And we may lose in the future, or we may find a great home builder that'll come in and build single-family homes, and maybe Garbett will be the one to do that. It's hard to say that this feels like a win because it really feels like it was phase one. We know for sure there is more to come.”