The future belongs to those who prepare for it, and officials in Cottonwood Heights City are working to stay ahead of the curve. In this case, it involves both curves and straightaways—along Fort Union Blvd.
A Planned Development District that city staff is now studying is intended to encourage mixed used development along the roadway, from 1300 East and Union Park eastward to the gravel pit on Wasatch Blvd.
“This has been on the city’s radar for the entire 10 years since its incorporation,” said Brian Berndt, community and economic development director. “The Fort Union corridor has some unique connection qualities that are underutilized, and we want to make sure we can offer options to both current property owners and those who look at new and redevelopment in the area.”
During his presentation at a city council work session, Berndt illustrated the potential for retail and residential development along Fort Union, as well as addressing the sales revenue leakage Cottonwood Heights is losing from residents’ spending.
“We’ve identified that more than two-thirds of the revenue we could be getting is leaving the city,” he said. “Hospitality dollars alone—lodging and food and beverage—are being spent in neighboring cities because our residents can’t find what they are looking for here.”
Fort Union’s connectability is multi-faceted. To the north, I-215 intersects at both 1300 and 2000 East, as well as at 3000 East, where motorists can turn to go up to Wasatch Blvd. On the boulevard itself, vehicles can travel to and from the canyons.
“So we’re looking at a type of zoning classification that could give property owners some options for development,” Berndt said. “By the city creating this master plan for the PDD, we can go out and seek funding for different grants, to help with highway, bike and pedestrian improvements.”
It’s a team approach, Berndt said, working with developers to help with established properties that are 40 or 50 years old and thus underutilized, as well as finding new businesses to come into the city.
“The code we’re proposing gives those owners and developers significant options,” he said.
The PDD divides the boulevard into three corridors—west, central and east. Though the development plan would be rolled out over the next 10 years, some of the changes could be much more immediate.
The west corridor, near existing retail businesses in the 1300 East and Union Park area, could see increased density of retail development, condensed parking areas that would reduce the amount of asphalt, improved visibility and signage, added entertainment options such as dining and plaza areas. Ultimately it is designed to recapture lost sales tax leakage through addition of new businesses.
“We want to create a place for people to shop and linger,” Berndt said.
Development in the central corridor, along Highland Drive and 2300 East, would be more recreation-related, with lunchtime eateries and a gathering place for community events. The plan calls for increased allowable housing densities and building heights (five to six stories), rental units at commercial nodes with townhouse development, increased walkability and bringing businesses out closer to the street.
“We can recapture lost sales tax leakage in smaller-scale businesses,” Berndt said.
The east corridor would ideally create a vibrant gateway to Fort Union, and could include splash pads, an ice skating rink, warming stations for bikers and walkers, food vendors and mobiles, interactive sports, a clock tower and unique, one-of-a-kind restaurants in a cluster area. Shuttle service to and from the canyons and from existing and future hotels would lend itself to development of this area. Class A office space in the area, which currently enjoys a 94 percent occupancy rate, would be increased. The Wasatch Front Regional Council estimates that 11,000 new jobs will be created in the city over the next 25 years.
The gravel pit will remain in operation for at least the next few years, so development of these nodes in the east corridor might be a bit down the road.
“What you have to do is be both progressive and patient at the same time,” Berndt said. “You set yourself up for the stepping stones moving forward. What we’re planning is not for tomorrow, but for 5-10 years down the road. If a community is progressive, tenants will look at it more seriously.”