As Quarry Bend development thrives, Sandy puts rancor behind it

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SANDY - Shoppers stream from Wal-Mart into a sapling-spotted parking lot, plopping kids and groceries into their cars. Young families jaunt from their brightly colored town homes to a neighborhood pool. Two ball diamonds silently await the clatter of an evening softball game.

A gravel pit no more, Quarry Bend has erased most hints of the industrial eyesore and community sore spot that divided Sandy three years ago. Then, voters narrowly upheld a city decision that allowed big-box stores and other shops onto the 107-acre parcel near 9200 South and 1000 East, where many residents had hoped to see a regional park.

"People have moved on," says Robyn Bagley, a former leader of the Save Our Communities group that fought the development by forcing a voter referendum. "I don't have bitter feelings. I don't have issues with the shopping center. It's what the citizens of Sandy chose."

Today, Quarry Bend - except for a number of smaller storefronts - is virtually filled.

A Wal-Mart Supercenter and Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse, the two big-box anchors, moved in more than a year ago. Each had occupied another location in Sandy - opponents thus argued, in 2005, the stores would not generate new sales-tax revenue - but Wal-Mart's former location, near 10400 South and State Street, had shuttered after the chain opened a new store in South Jordan. The old big-box has since been razed. Lowe's former home remains dark.

North of Quarry Bend's shopping area, Garbett Homes planted 228 town homes - and all but nine have sold in the past 14 months.

The Boyer Co., the master developer of Quarry Bend, and Garbett Homes helped Sandy develop the 8-acre Quarry Bend Park, which features two ball fields and opened last fall. Boyer also gave the city 6.5 acres of open space near the Sandy Amphitheater, where the city has launched construction on another park.

There's one lingering swath of ground being prepped for a 93-unit, high-end apartment complex, slated to open next summer.

The string of smaller shops lining the street - a layout meant to screen the surrounding neighborhoods from the big-boxes and make the shopping center more walkable - still has several vacant slots.

Those soon will be filled, said Scott Verhaaren, a partner with Boyer. Panda Express opened last weekend and Salt City Grill, a Planet Beach tanning salon and a Sears Appliance Outlet Store will follow later this summer.

The project is 84 percent leased, he said, and retailers report "good sales."

Still, the "gravel pit" moniker lingers. Garbett Homes parenthetically lists The Heights on Quarry Bend as "The Gravel Pit" on its Web site, mostly because would-be buyers have needed that explanation to find the community, says René Oehlerking, Garbett's director of marketing.

"Within a year, no one's going to ever use that terminology again," he predicts.

Jennifer and Todd Lofgren, new residents of Quarry Bend, use the "gravel pit" name less and less. The term doesn't fit their tidy neighborhood, boasting amenities such as a sleek clubhouse, a pool, playgrounds and miles of trails.

The couple - Jennifer is 26 and Todd is 28 - are among a number of young families who have picked Quarry Bend because of its location - and the prices. Homes have sold for about $200,000 to $300,000.

"If you are looking for something new that you can afford [in Sandy], there's not a whole lot out there," Todd Lofgren says.

He and his wife both grew up nearby, and now it's a short, five-minute drive to take their kids, Carson, 3, and Annie, almost 2, to visit the grandparents. Lofgren likes the ballpark, where he plays catcher Thursday nights for his softball team, The Hot Pockets. And he enjoys the convenience of nearby stores.

"Having the Café Rio there has been, probably, dangerous. We eat there too often," he says. "Almost everything that's gone in we've used. In the summertime, we don't need to drive anywhere."

Not all neighbors are pleased. Tami Combs lives just east of the development and regularly hears orders blasted to Lowe's employees over the store's speaker system. She would have loved a large park, "a legacy for all of our children and grandchildren," but she says she would have settled for a Sandy version of The Gateway, which Boyer built in Salt Lake City.

"Do something impressive that makes people want to congregate and come here," she says, "not this hodgepodge mess they did down there."

Kenny Glick, who lives several blocks south of Quarry Bend, disagrees. He refused to participate in the referendum's petition drive, and now he enjoys the 15-minute walk to Wal-Mart. Without a car, he used to walk much longer to get to the old Wal-Mart location on State Street.

"This store is one of the best stores I've ever been in," he says upon leaving Wal-Mart with groceries in tow. "There's nice people, good food - and I hate the other markets."

From pit to profits

* Sandy's City Council approved a zoning change in November 2004 that allowed big-box stores and other retail to be built in a defunct gravel pit. Previously, banks, offices, hotels, single-family homes and other uses were allowed in the zone.

* Save Our Communities, a group of residents, forced a voter referendum on the proposal. They supported a regional park - a 1980s master plan had identified the area as potential open space - but also pushed for a smaller-scale project.

* Sandy estimated a regional park at the 107-acre site would cost up to $100 million to buy, develop and maintain the property. That would mean a hefty tax hike.

* The November 2005 referendum failed in a 53 percent to 47 percent split. Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan, who supported the development, won a fourth term by a similar, narrow margin against challenger Gary Forbush, a member of Save Our Communities.