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New Report Questions How Much Power Inland Port Authority Has Over Land Development

Woman speaks at an outdoor podium as three men stand behind her.
Julia Ritchey
Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski filed a lawsuit in March saying the city's authority was usurped by the state in the inland port project.

A new public engagement reportby the non-profit planning group Envision Utah said people are concerned about the inland port. Chief among those worries are air quality and other environmental impacts. But the report also noted that there is a lot of confusion about who maintains control over the land and development process.

It found many Utahns feel a “lack of transparency” from the Utah Inland Port Authority (UIPA), the 11-member board appointed by the Governor, city and state officials, and other stakeholders.

The Envision Utah report, which was commissioned by UIPA, found that, despite perceptions, the authority may not have that much ability to influence how the roughly 16,000 acres in northwest Salt Lake City are developed. 

“Salt Lake City, West Valley City, and Magna retain primary zoning and regulatory powers [over the area],” the report said, “with Salt Lake City having primary land use authority over the largest and most controversial portion of the land,” the area just above I-80. 

But that is little consolation for Mayor Jackie Biskupski, who launched a lawsuit last March against both the state and UIPA, accusing both of a power grab.

“Not only has the State illegally usurped the constitutionally protected powers of our municipality,” said Mayor Jackie Biskupski in a press release after filing a motion for the lawsuit last month. “But it has authorized the treatment of Salt Lake City taxpayers as second-class citizens, denying us the same opportunities enjoyed by others in Utah.”

Ari Bruening, President and COO of Envision Utah, said that in addition to the cities and the Inland Port Authority, private developers and landowners have a big influence in the process. They propose the plans, some of which have already been approved by Salt Lake City. 

Much of the land, he adds, is already private property. “They will decide what they want to develop and what kind of businesses they’re going to operate there and how they’re going to operate.” 

The mayor’s senior advisor Valerie Wilde said that as it stands now, if developers want to change the deals they currently have, they can still appeal to the Inland Port Board.

“So if the board ultimately does not like what a jurisdiction is doing, then they hold the trump card,” Wilde said. “The minute a developer appeals to this port authority, then the city loses its ability to control what is or isn’t built on that land.”

Wilde explained that one reason for the city’s lawsuit is to reclaim what it sees as their constitutional authority. Mayor Biskupski is leaving office in January, but candidates Luz Escamilla and Erin Mendenhall have both said they support the lawsuit.

The Inland Port Board will be using the Envision Utah report to guide their master plan. Their next board meeting is scheduled for Oct. 17.

Jon reports on quality of life issues, education and the economy
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