Proposed trade hub in northwest Salt Lake City gets few tweaks, but city leaders seek more changes as it heads to Senate

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski makes a comment on SB234, the inland port bill, as sponsoring Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, listens in the background, Friday, March 2, 2018.

A Senate committee Friday unanimously signed off on amended plans for a commerce-driving land-based port of entry in northwest Salt Lake City, amid objections from city leaders that the latest version still threatens the capital’s autonomy over local taxes and zoning.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, and Mayor Jackie Biskupski said the two sides would continue to work on addressing the city’s concerns as the bill, now on its way to the full Senate, moves through the Legislature.

SB234 would set up an independent authority to guide creation and development of a special trade zone in the city, where inbound and outbound overseas goods could be received and processed, bypassing coastal ports of entry. Proponents say such a facility would deliver an economic boon to the state, positioning Utah to benefit from a global economy increasingly dependent on supply-chain logistics for speed and growth, with ripple benefits for manufacturing and other business sectors.

Stevenson, in presenting the bill, called it potentially “the largest economic development project that we’ve ever done in the state of Utah.”

The city has worked, through recent zoning and development moves, to position itself to create such a trade hub on its own, one perhaps tied to the state by contract, but not run by a state-created entity. It has sought to broaden its case against the plan by highlighting how the bill could set precedent for state intervention that threatens local government control statewide.

• It takes five percent off the top from special city taxing districts created to reinvest in area development.

• And it includes too little representation from the city for an entity whose jurisdiction is entirely within the city’s borders.

The new version of the bill approved Friday by the Senate Economic Development and Workforce Services committee reduces how much of northwest Salt Lake City would be under the authority’s jurisdiction, from 38 to 30 square miles. It also somewhat limits the scope of the agency’s zoning appeal power.

As revised, a bill to create a land-based international trade hub and port of entry in Utah would create an agency with authority over 30 square miles in northwest Salt Lake City. This map shows the proposed new boundaries. City officials are objecting to the size of the authority’s jurisdiction and the scope of its zoning and taxing powers.

The actual port facility, when built, would occupy only a small area within the jurisdiction. But control of the surrounding land would allow the agency to make development decisions affecting, for example, transportation into and out of the facility, as well as receive a greater share of tax dollars to fund its operations.

With House and Senate Republican leaders firmly on board for the plan, a favorable outcome for the bill was in little doubt at Friday’s hearing. Biskupski, testifying against it, said the proposal “still leaves me with grave concerns” about giving control over thousands of acres of the city to an unelected state board.

She said later that the city had made some progress with the sponsor and other legislative supporters, as reflected by the amendments.

“But you can see there is still a very large section of our land that is inside the area they are discussing,” she said.

Besides the land use and taxing concerns, the city wants more representation on the proposed agency’s nine-member board. Currently the mayor is given two appointments, one of whom would also be a member of the Airport Advisory Board; and the City Council has one appointment.

Committee Chairman Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, noting the overflow audience that turned out for the hearing, asked to limit testimony to four speakers each in favor of the bill and against it. In spite of some opposition, speakers were unanimous in support of the port concept, if not this bill’s version of it.

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