Utah Stories

Canyon Center Stalled

With the Cottonwood Heights development in limbo, business owners express their growing concerns.


canyon cottonwood heights new development
Luke Larsen Holding a set of Rossiegnol Squad 7 skies and Borther Zac Larsen with a set of Volkl Two Skies

Dave Larsen started the Lifthouse 42 years ago at Brighton Ski resort. It was a small shop that offered ski tune-ups and a few items for sale. They expanded in 1986. Now, Larsen’s sons Zach and Luke manage day-to-day operations, and they have customers who’ve been with them since they opened. For the past few years, the business outlook has been uncertain due to the huge hole just behind their building.

“If I had my choice, I’d like to see the Canyon Racquet Club return, but I know that’s not going to happen, so we just have to hope the end result is something positive,” says Lifthouse manager Luke Larsen.

With repeated delays, the 12 acre, $59 million Canyon Centre development project at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon has yet to officially break ground. Last March, “final plans” were presented to the Cottonwood Heights City Council and approved. Plans included two hotels, a community park/amphitheater, bike and pedestrian paths, underground parking, office space and condominiums, and some restaurant and retail space. But a handful of citizens who have views near the project were upset with what they saw. They believed the building height was one story too tall for zoning laws. They have successfully stalled progress by suing the City of Cottonwood Heights.

Larsen says there are aspects of the plan they fear will be a great detriment to their business. Primarily, a median placed in the middle of Fort Union Blvd. just west of the intersection with Wasatch Boulevard, which would prevent customers from turning left into their parking lot.
“The majority of our customers come from off the freeway and get into our parking lot by turning left. If those plans go forward, it will certainly make it much more difficult for our customers to reach us,” says Larsen. Compounding the potential problem, the new development has plans for two retail shops, one of which is very likely to cater to skiers. Overall, if plans move forward, it will make it much more difficult for customers to reach the existing local business, and much easier for them to patronize a new shop. The Larsen family is afraid the double negative impact could hurt their business.

Examining the bigger picture, Larsen said that his family, like other business owners, is unhappy with the way the city and developers have handled the project. As Larsen puts it, when it came to discussing plans,“We weren’t invited.” Instead, Larsen and others saw initial drawings of the project which remove and replace their businesses with a “kiss and ride,” a new hub for UTA canyon bus routes.

Larsen says they were never told their businesses were being considered for removal in the overall plans. Mayor Kelvyn Cullimore has denied that there ever was a removal question. The business owners believe that the mayor’s unwillingness to be forthright with them, compounded by the treatment they have received from Cottonwood Heights police, has produced an unfriendly relationship between the business owners and the city.

Asking Larsen if he would have been ok with selling his building and relocating within the new project he says, “It would be hard to leave this location, but we would like to have a working relationship with whoever moves in.” We posed the same question of Canyon Inn owner Jim Stojack, who said he wouldn’t have had any problem had the developer or the city come to him to ask about buying out his property for a market-value price. Instead, the Canyon Inn and neighboring 7-Eleven business have seen significant declines in sales because of a police presence in the area that they describe as “oppressive.”

For nearly two years, CHPD and UHP positioned officers in the parking lots of both the 7-Eleven and the Canyon Inn, and along Wasatch Boulevard, pulling over customers suspected of drinking and driving. Many motorists who blew below the legal .08 limit received DUIs for blowing .06 and .04. Even non-drinking Mormon customers were harassed.

Finally, one UHP officer who was especially diligent about harassing motorists was asked to resign. UHP trooper Neil Green forcefully resigned rather than face Marty Ewer in the wrongful DUI charges case. Jim Stojack had video evidence of the degree to which officers were bullying motorists and falsifying lane-change and failure to use signals charges. Reviewing the video evidence, Stojack clearly did not commit these offenses. Does Stojack feel vindicated by the recent resignation of the officer who bullied him?

“It does make me feel better. But it’s too little too late,” says Stojack. “Maybe after two years people will realize the cops have moved down the road, but this area is still greatly damaged by what went on here for nearly two years, and we are still suffering as a result.”

Now, with plans for the development on hold, business owners are not pleased that progress is stalled. “Anything would be better than the big dirt hole we have there now,” says Lani Roberts owner of the 7-Eleven at the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon. Roberts says she has plans to take great care of the construction workers on the project, hoping that sales will return to their pre-CHPD days.

Roberts and Stojack were part of a group of 30-plus people chanting “No more police state!” on a busy corner in Cottonwood Heights last September, a protest CHPD Chief Robby Russo described on local TV news as being a response to his department’s aggressive DUI enforcement.

One year ago, Cottonwood Heights filed charges against Lani Roberts for selling alcohol to a minor. The standard protocol for this occurrence is that if a convenience store fails a sting and sells alcohol to a minor, the employee who sold the alcohol is terminated and the business owner pays a penalty. But in this instance, the city of Cottonwood Heights decided to charge Roberts personally with criminal negligence, which would have resulted in the termination of her beer license. After nearly a year of delays and “a huge amount of legal fees,” charges were dismissed. The city was unable to prove that Roberts was willingly negligent. Roberts says that anytime an employee has failed a sting they are immediately terminated and, further, if she ever catches an employee selling alcohol to a customer without checking their ID, they are terminated.

Roberts and Stojack say that fortunately, CHPD has, for the most part, changed its course of action. Another gas station down the road is now the sting target. Roberts is surprised that they haven’t had a sting operation at her shop in months. She expected a regular three-month cycle. Stojack says that now another area bar is being targeted. “Their business is being ruined now, just like mine was.” Neither Mayor Kelvyn Cullimore nor Police Chief Robby Russo was willing to comment on this story.

As for the Larsen family, they are excited for the upcoming ski season. Their loyal customers are getting skis tuned and waxed early, and they are expecting a great snow year. All they can do now is hope for the best.

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