Millcreek’s fifth year in reviewJan 05, 2023 02:25PM ● By Sara Milano
Residents enjoy the newly opened outdoor skating loop at Millcreek Common. (Courtesy Millcreek newsletter)
Anyone who has spent time around a 5-year-old will tell you that they are curious. They ask big questions about the world and their place in it, such as “Who am I? What is important to me?” and “What are my dreams for the future?” They are in a rich period of developmental growth and learning where novel challenges present themselves every day and the opportunities seem boundless.
Millcreek, in its fifth year as an incorporated city, encountered many of the same questions, challenges and opportunities as a 5-year-old child. In 2022, the city advocated for fair housing policies, improved access to outdoor spaces for its residents, and grappled with the growing pains of inflation and a booming population.
Affordable Housing and the Unhoused
Affordable housing continues to be a legislative priority for the city of Millcreek, which is uniquely poised to respond to the housing challenges of a burgeoning city and state. Because Millcreek’s incorporation was so recent, legislators are not limited by precedent, history or long-held views on housing issues. In this way, they are able to serve as an example for other cities in Utah struggling to meet the needs of an increasing unhoused population.
The homeless overflow shelter stands out as an instance where Millcreek met a challenge with compassion by asserting its values. The Utah State Legislature mandated that all cities submit one possible location for the winter overflow shelter, which hosts unhoused residents who cannot sleep outside during the coldest months. Millcreek’s Calvin Smith Library was selected as the state’s designated overflow facility in September. On Sept. 15, the city hosted a special public meeting with residents to respond to inquiries about the shelter. The meeting showcased the public’s divergent opinions on hosting the shelter, from optimistic, like resident Andrew Gruber who is “proud to live in a community like Millcreek that is compassionate and doing our part” to fearful, like local business owner Trae Eller, who told councilmembers “we’d be insane if we weren’t worried” about the shelter.
In addition to its support for unhoused people, Millcreek also made several strides to adopt affordable housing policies. Almost every meeting saw a new area being rezoned to accommodate additional housing or commercial areas. The city also committed to a moderate income housing plan that provides strategies for addressing housing affordability, including rezoning, allowing for accessory dwelling units, improving public transit options near mixed-use areas, and incentivizing developers to build affordable housing.
In addition to this commitment, the city rezoned a vacant lot at 4101 S. Howick St. to prepare to build Millcreek’s own affordable housing project. The project, which will be called “the Howick,” will feature 150 housing units for individuals and families with incomes of up to 60% of the area median income. Mayor Jeff Silvestrini told residents in a Sept. 26 meeting that “Millcreek is a leader in affordable housing” and would remain as such.
Parks and Recreation
Millcreek leaned into its motto, “connected by nature,” by investing in improvements in three of the four parks in its jurisdiction this year. On March 14, councilmembers voted to approve a $23,000 agreement with contractors to give Canyon Rim Park 10 additional pickleball courts as well as upgraded landscaping and irrigation. Later in August, councilmembers voted to approve a cooperative agreement with Salt Lake County to give the Canyon Rim Park playground a $90,000 facelift. This investment would cover the cost of expansion, a new swing set with ADA-accessible swings, new wood chips and curbing.
Sunnyvale Park, as the city’s newsletter describes it, “was in dire need of improvements.” The park also “serves a large immigrant and refugee community.” In March, city council voted to appropriate $3,000 for community garden beds and a tool shed for the park located at 4013 S. 700 West. The city has also won two grants to improve the park, which led to futsal courts, lighting, playground equipment and a new pavilion being installed.
The city only recently officially acquired the parks on Nov. 14 in a transfer from Salt Lake County. The transfer included Sunnyvale, Fortuna and Canyon Rim parks, which had already been maintained by the city and were informally “a part of our city fabric since we incorporated,” according to Silvestrini. The one park in Millcreek’s city limits not included in the transfer was Scott Avenue Park. Described by nearby neighbors as “the most neglected park in the city,” improvement efforts hit a snag when the county’s flood control facility there prevented the park from being transferred to Millcreek. The flood control facility also prevents development on the southwestern side of the park and any improvements that involve a change in elevation. Councilmembers are hopeful that the park will be conveyed to Millcreek in the future, since they have already been paying to maintain it.
Millcreek Common and the Quest for Community Spaces
One focus of the city council’s agenda that will bring exciting improvements to residents in the coming year is the development of Millcreek Common. As a newly incorporated and developing city, Millcreek has the opportunity to intentionally create spaces for community members to gather right in the city center. Millcreek’s General Plan, adopted in 2019 and meant to serve as “a policy guide for the City over the next 10 to 20 years,” highlights “the need for a central city gathering place in the heart of Millcreek where residents could enjoy a sense of community and common identity.” Residents and councilmembers alike are hopeful that Millcreek Common will be exactly that.
Councilmembers broke ground on the new city hall building on St. Patrick’s Day in a celebration of progress on the new community hub. June brought exciting changes to the area, with the grand opening of a skate loop as well as the acceptance of a grant that will fund the installation of a climbing wall on the exterior of the building. The skate loop is Utah’s largest outdoor roller and ice skating rink, and was well attended during the summer season. Now that the weather has turned cooler, the loop has officially converted into an outdoor ice skating ribbon to remain open all winter. The new Millcreek City Hall will be moved into the Common once completed and will feature an 81-foot-high climbing wall on the northeast side of the building.
Local restaurant Pizza Nono opened its second location at the Millcreek Common in July, and the new City Hall will also feature a concept kitchen and cafe that went out to request-for-proposal for vendors this summer. On Thursday nights, food trucks parked and people gathered at the Common to enjoy a sampling of food from local businesses. A splash pad featuring fountains catered to families during the hot, dry months of summer alongside an ice cream truck perfectly positioned near the roller skating ribbon.
Once the new City Hall is constructed, phase two of the Common’s development will begin. This will involve, according to the city’s website, “mixed-use development, an outdoor amphitheater, and landscaping that will bring out the existing beauty that Millcreek has to offer.”
Taxes and Public Safety
2022 saw an increase in cost-of-living expenses for people across the country, and Millcreek was no exception. Two major taxes were either introduced or increased by the city this year, including a new energy sales and use tax as well as a property tax increase. It became evident in the first quarter of the year that Millcreek would be facing a nearly 20% increase in the cost of their contract with the Unified Police Department, causing the need to make “some hard decisions,” in the words of the mayor.
City councilmembers cited several reasons for the contract increase, including a mid-year salary bump for officers, increased fuel costs, the hiring of a mental health officer, and a cost-of-living adjustment that put Unified Police officers in the top three best compensated departments in Salt Lake County. The UPD Board had made a commitment to officers to offer this competitive salary to aid in recruitment and retention. As Finance Director Lori Johnson put it, “every community [is] struggling” to hire and keep trained officers.
City staff considered many options for funding the contract increase but ultimately settled on a hybrid model involving a 4.57% increase in property tax coupled with a new 6% energy sales and use tax.
Millcreek residents weighed in on the $2.5-million taxpayer funded increase in the UPD budget during city council meetings as well as two truth-in-taxation public hearings held before the tax increases were voted on. Some residents wholly supported the budget increase, like Dennis Watson who told the council “if people are not safe, nothing else matters,” but still lamented the tax increase. Others questioned the validity of policing as a public safety intervention, with Eric Herschthal explaining his aversion to “heavy reliance on police for a community that did not have serious crime problems.”
Millcreek City councilmembers voted unanimously to implement the property tax increase on Aug. 8 and the energy sales and use tax on Sept. 26. These changes will take effect beginning in the new fiscal year.
Grappling with the issues of housing affordability, creating accessible community spaces, and supplying public safety to a community divided on how (or whether) to fund it presented Millcreek with unprecedented opportunities to be a policy leader in Utah and beyond. 2022 marked a period of immense growth and identity formation for the young city of Millcreek.