Vineyard taking shape as ‘an urban city’ built on former steel mill site

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In 2000 there were less than 150 people living in Vineyard, which for decades was primarily a farming community that hosted one of the nation’s largest steel mills.

Squeezed between Orem to the east and Utah Lake to the west, the city had approximately 12,403 residents by 2017. It’s a city on the move, and residential growth there — particularly in high-density housing — is poised to influence the rest of Utah County.

U.S. Census Bureau statistics show it’s one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation. More than 55% of residents are under age 18, meaning the area is attracting a large majority of young adults with children.

Vineyard City Manager Jacob McHargue said the city welcomes all residents in Utah County. “We’re trying to be an entertainment district, which doesn’t exist,” he said in a phone interview. “We see Vineyard as a place that the rest of the county wants to come and recreate.” The city already has a Megaplex movie theatre and has plans for a Top Golf.

As the newest incorporated city in Utah County, Vineyard has a reputation to build, and it’s “trying to be different than the rest of the county,” McHargue said. “We’re really kind of (an) urban city. So it’s different than Utah County, kinda more similar to what you’d see in downtown Salt Lake.”

To fund the city of recreation for all of Utah County, the city voted in favor of a recreation, arts and parks (RAP) tax last November. McHargue says the city is currently in the process of planning to officially collect the tax. “It will be enacted in April. We will start seeing revenue from the RAP tax in July, ” he said. “The council still hasn’t decided how they’re going to spend all of the money.” He thinks the majority of RAP funds will go to parks and recreation programs.

One of several new high-density neighborhoods sprouting in Vineyard (Preston Crawley).

Vineyard also receives grants and loans on the state and federal level. According to McHargue, it’s because the city has potential. “I see Vineyard is a priority for the state because there’s not really any other areas that you have a clean slate that you can develop from,” he said.

This “clean slate” refers to the old Geneva Steel Mill site. Built by a division of the U.S. government in late 1944, the 1,700 acre mill was initially used to boost steel production during WWII. After the war, it was sold to private interests and for decades produced steel products, converted coal into coke and produced inorganic fertilizers, according to the Geneva Restoration website. The mill employed thousands of Utahns but also produced emissions that dirtied Utah County’s skyline.

A drop in steel prices made the mill obsolete by the turn of the century. Geneva permanently closed in 2002 and was later sold to a Salt Lake City-based developer. The structures on the site were sold or demolished between 2005 and 2008.

According to @Geneva Project Manager Stewart Park, the property is now a multi-use site for retail and residential purposes. Little by little, they’re cleaning up the site to make way for more urban development. In their 2017 city’s demographic report, officials credited the new use of the site to continuing population growth.

But the transition from mill town to urban area hasn’t come easily. In October, residents began complaining about a smell that was coming from the site. One Orem resident, Steve Alder, reported the smell to the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, so they got involved.

Map of the Geneva Restoration project. Air monitoring locations correspond to the areas where complaints came from. The containment location refers to the tarpits.

The department’s communications director, Donna Spangler, said it became a department priority to make sure the site cleanup is done in a way that protects the environment and public health. “When the odor started to happen, we met with them and said ‘you’ve got to do something to get rid of the odor because it is impacting these residents,'” she said.

Geneva Restoration stopped all work at the tarpits in December. Brad Maulding, section manager of UDEQ’s Waste Management & Radiation Control, wrote in an email to Orem residents that the work had stopped to “evaluate other methods to address the odor and consider enhancements to public outreach and air monitoring.”

The odor proved to be nothing more than a nuisance. Geneva Restoration ran tests, Spangler said, and those “air samples that came back didn’t necessarily show any concerns of any long-term health impacts.” While the odor itself was not harmful, the tar pits are. “It’s an area that has been contaminated by past (steel mill) practices,” Spangler explained, adding that it’s the transfer of these contaminated tarpit materials that cause the odor.

To eliminate the smell, Geneva Restoration could decide to bury the tarpits where they are. “But it’s not really the most protective” way to deal with the materials, Spangler said. “Because what they’re doing now is they’re taking that contamination and moving it to a landfill that’s on site that is probably more protective of making sure that in the future that this contamination doesn’t end up causing any problems.”

Work on the tarpits resumed Feb. 3, with no real change in procedure. While there were talks about adapting the work according to time and climate according to Spangler, recently residents in Orem, Lindon and Vineyard received a mailer with no such promise. It does promise that the work will be done in about six months.

A recent mailer sent to residents in Orem, Lindon, and Vineyard.

As the site is reclaimed, Vineyard will continue to see development in the near future, with the environment in mind, McHargue said.

“We have a FrontRunner station that will open later this year,” McHargue said, adding that the stop will be a future intermodal hub — a single stop where the FrontRunner, bus routes and light rail meet. McHargue and fellow city official hopes this will make it stand out from other stops on the line and continue to attract new residents.

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