OREM — With construction underway on a student-housing development adjacent to Utah Valley University, developers are facing higher costs after a referendum vote last year on whether the project could proceed left the facility's future in question.
Taylor Woodbury, chief operating officer of Woodbury Corp., said costs went up “dramatically” as a result of the delay.
“The referendum did do a lot of damage,” he said, adding that the delay made the project cost 5-10% more. “It's made the project more difficult.”
The project was originally slated to break ground in 2018, but after Let Orem Vote, a group of Orem residents who opposed the development, collected enough signatures to challenge the project's city-approved zoning change by putting it to a public vote on last year’s ballot, construction was delayed by a year.
Last November, Orem residents voted in favor of the development by a margin of 1,788 votes, according to a Utah County General Election summary report.
Woodbury said he’s dealt with neighborhood opposition on projects before, but not at this level.
“I think the biggest challenge we faced was really trying to combat the misinformation that was out in the community about the project,” he said.
He said it might take completing the project and getting students moved in to overcome lingering negative feelings.
“It's a great project. It's going to be really a positive thing, once we get it done,” he said. “I hope that we can win over a lot of people once they can see what it is they were scared about and see that it really isn't going to be that.”
Woodbury Corp. joins PEG Development as the project's developers, and the contractor is R&O Construction.
As construction is well underway on The Green on Campus Drive, construction crews have closed a road on Campus Drive — between UVU and the incoming student-housing development — to build an underground pedestrian tunnel.
PEG Development project manager Kyle Jardine said construction began in April, and the block's road closure is due to the construction of an underground pedestrian tunnel that will connect the complex and the campus.
The project, originally referred to as Palos Verdes, will include four five-story buildings to house students in 1,604 beds, and a parking structure.
The underground tunnel will eliminate the crosswalk that's been on the street and create a safer and more accessible pathway to and from campus, he said. The road will open again when school resumes in the fall.
'"The pedestrian tunnel is in the beginning phases of being dug out and ready to get formed and poured," he said.
He said construction has run smoothly since the project's groundbreaking in April. Crews are currently working on the foundations and footings of two buildings that will house students, as well as the parking structure that will provide more than 1,000 parking stalls.
Jardine said the first two buildings will open to students by fall 2020. The other two buildings are anticipated to be completed by 2021.
Having private developers build a student housing complex instead of the university allows universities to focus on education and not the management of the building, according to Woodbury, adding it could be "risky" for universities that might want to build a student housing development on their own.
“There are a lot of reasons why universities who aren't in the housing game currently shouldn't try to get into it (and) shouldn't assume that they're going to be expert managers of it,” he said.
Orem resident Mark Tippets, who led Let Orem Vote’s efforts to oppose the project, said he’s still concerned the development will increase traffic in the neighborhood.
He’s also concerned with UVU’s growing student population, which has topped 39,700 — the largest student population in the state — but has accepted that Orem residents have voted in favor of the development.
“It went to a vote of the people. They voted for it,” he said. “There's nothing else we can do, it's part of our landscape now.”
He said his group will continue to oppose high-density housing developments in Orem.
Cameron Martin, vice president of University Relations at UVU, called the student housing development a "game changer" for the university.
"You go to some other college campuses and there are nooks of gathering place where students live, learn, work, play and that is what this development creates — a sense of community," he said.
Martin said research has shown that the more accessible services are to students, the better the retention and completion rates become — a "big focus" for UVU administrators.
He said opponents of the project have a "wait and see" attitude toward the project.
"We continue to meet with the neighbors, and we will always meet with them when they have issues pertaining to our cohabitation … in the same neighborhood," he said. "That commitment has never waned, nor will it."
Having worked as a former resident adviser at a nearby student-contracted housing complex, Wolverine Crossing, Taylor Bell, UVU’s student body president, said students have told him they are excited about the development, which he expects will attract freshmen.
“People are excited to have that proximity to campus,” he said.Comment on this story
The closeness, he said, will ensure students will “get the full university experience” and could increase student attendance at after-school activities, lectures and sporting events.
Woodbury mirrored Bell's vision and said, currently, the average UVU student's commute to and from school takes half an hour, which could prevent students from going back to campus for an event.
"It will be very transformative in getting people more involved in student life and activities around campus," Woodbury said.